Tuesday, April 21, 2009

National Boundaries, Provincial Politics

I was reading the CP story on the French boundary claim on the Globe's web site (while trying to ignore the always annoying NewfoundlandLabrador pop-up ad) when this line stuck out: "Mr. Williams, who has repeatedly clashed with Mr. Harper, has said he expects Ottawa's full support in defending the province's interests in the region."

Then I checked VOCM's take on the story, which had a similar line: "Federal cabinet minister Peter MacKay says Canada's position on the matter is clear, and the federal government will be standing up for Newfoundland and Labrador on the matter." http://www.vocm.com/news-info.asp?id=35634

What are these lines doing in a story about an international boundary dispute between two sovereign nation states?

The headline for the CP story gives a clue: "Canada rejects French claim to seabed off Newfoundland, PM tells Williams." While the explicit news is that Harper sent DW a letter to tell him that the federal government is going to do its job and protect Canada's claim to the Atlantic seabed, the implicit news is the question of whether the ABC jihad will affect how Harper deals with France's claim.

Notice how differently the CP story deals with the French department of Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon. While France does not have a federal system of government likes Canada's, its system of departments is not as uniform as it appears. Since 2003, overseas territories such as the collectivité territoriale de Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon have enjoyed a measure of administrative autonomy.

As Nottawa reported last month, Saint Pierre et Miquelon has its own set of political grievances with Paris: http://nottawa.blogspot.com/2009/03/appel-au-secours.html

And yet, this is all the CP story has to say about the interests of Saint Pierre et Miquelon: "Annick Girardin, the elected member for Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, has said she wants the two countries to come to an agreement on dividing up the resources and any economic windfall that could come from the region."

The story gives two starkly different impressions. On the one hand, we have the unitary interests of France, which speaks with one voice on international border disputes; on the other hand, we have the bifurcated interests of Canada, which speaks with two voices on international border disputes.

This is false on two counts. First, in terms of politics, France is hardly the monolithic entity that it's made out to be, and what's happening involves regional grievances that would sound familiar to anyone in Canada.

Second, in terms of international law, Harper is neither defending the province's interests nor standing up for Newfoundland and Labrador. Rather, he is defending the country's interests and standing up for Canadians.

Harper's letter states, "I have also conveyed our position to President Sarkozy." DW has repeatedly said that he is a proud Canadian who does not support separatism -- so why, I wonder, would anyone think he'd have a problem with the Prime Minister of Canada doing his job?

No comments:

Post a Comment