Friday, August 21, 1998

Canadian court ruling
on Quebec secession

CANADA'S Supreme Court has given a qualified green light to Quebec's separatists, ruling that secession could be achieved through negotiations with the federal government, but not unilaterally. If a clear majority of Quebecers voted for independence in a referendum, the judges declared, federal officials would be obligated to negotiate the issue. The court did not address the question of what would happen if the negotiations resulted in an impasse.

The decision did not fully satisfy either side of the issue, which has hovered over Canada for about 20 years but goes back to the origins of the Canadian federation.

Separatists responded that a majority of 50 percent plus one in the next referendum would be sufficient to begin the process of obtaining sovereignty for Quebec. The question was last addressed in a referendum in 1995, when independence fell just short of a majority, with 49.4 percent of the vote.

The federal government of Prime Minister Jean Chretien -- a native Quebecer who opposes secession -- turned to the Supreme Court after being shaken by the separatists' near-victory in that referendum. The government hoped a favorable court ruling would convince middle-ground Quebec voters that secession would not be quick and painless. Chretien observed that the court "has found that the government of Quebec does not have the authority in Canadian law to effect independence unilaterally nor does it have such a right in international law."

However, Quebec's separatist premier, Lucien Bouchard, is expected to use the court ruling as ammunition as his Parti Quebecois runs for re-election either late this year or next spring. If Bouchard wins, he is expected to call another referendum on secession.

The Supreme Court declared that "the Constitution is not a straitjacket," and its ruling provided a degree of flexibility that should be welcomed in terms of political considerations. It leaves the resolution of this question to the politicians and the voters, which is as it should be.


Roth backs Lingle

POLITICAL endorsements made by organizations and individuals will dribble out as the election nears, but one stunner made this week was particularly significant to gubernatorial candidate Linda Lingle. Randy Roth, one of the five authors of the "Broken Trust" essay -- which launched the state attorney general's investigation of the Bishop Estate trustees after it ran in the Star-Bulletin on Aug. 9, 1997 -- has announced his unequivocal support for Lingle.

Roth's endorsement strengthens the candidate's assertion that, if elected, she will continue to look into any breach of fiduciary duty. In the past, some of her critics have warned that, since trustee Henry Peters' mother, Hoaliku Drake, is an active backer of the Maui mayor, Lingle might drop the inquiry if elected. Roth clearly doesn't believe that would happen.

Attorney Guy Sibilla has complained to the board of directors of the Hawaii State Bar Association about Roth, who will be president of the group next year. Sibilla said the endorsement and promise to deliver speeches on Lingle's behalf would divide the bar.

Maybe so, if Roth were sitting president of the group or if an HSBA policy specifically prohibited its officers from engaging in political activities. Neither is the case. But since Roth is acting as a private individual, and doesn't even start his presidency until after the election, he certainly has the right to make a personal endorsement at this time.


Clinton’s motive

IT is a sad commentary on the national mentality when a senator's response to President Clinton's order to attack terrorist targets is to question whether it was intended to divert attention from the Monica Lewinsky investigation. Dan Coats, R-Ind., made that suggestion and Arlen Specter, R-Pa., also expressed skepticism about the president's motive. References abounded to "Wag the Dog," a recent satirical movie in which something like this occurs although the war is bogus.

It appears to be nothing more than a remarkable coincidence that the strikes on targets in Afghanistan and Sudan took place while Lewinsky was testifying before the grand jury yesterday. Certainly the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed 257 people and injured thousands, were ample justification. Moreover, the Pentagon said it had received reports that more terrorist attacks were imminent.

Despite the fixation on the smarmy details of the Lewinsky affair, most Americans recognize that in the world beyond Washington far more important events are taking place. The terrorist bombings and now the U.S. response could serve as a wakeup call for the nation.

That is not to excuse the president's behavior with Lewinsky, which was deplorable, or to defend his lies and self-serving, unconvincing apology. But this is petty stuff compared with hundreds of dead and the threat of more terrorism. The world will not stand still while the only superpower occupies itself with judgments about the president's flawed character.

Clinton may have welcomed the opportunity to change the national topic of conversation by attacking terrorist facilities. But we are not cynical enough to believe that was his motive for ordering the strikes. Simply put, the national interest required such a response.

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