Hello crybaby, Quebec separatist Premier Rene Levesque greeted the Canadian ambassador to France at an official function during the Quebec leader's just completed visit to Paris.
Ambassador Gerard Pelletier took his revenge yesterday by complaining that the surprise award to Levesque of the rank of Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor by French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing violated Canadian legal procedures of which France had been made aware.
He also said that the France-Quebec agreement to exchange visits of prime ministers annually went beyond what the Canadian federal government had previously declared acceptable.
Complain as the Ottawa government may, there seems to be little it can do or say to dampen Quebec's drive for international recognition, a campaign that got a major boost from France last week.
Asked by the press what he and his old friend and adversary, Levesque, had discussed during a talk they had yesterday, Pelletier cracked. "We talked about the price of eggs."
Even Levesque's conciliatory reference to a "Paris-Quebec-Ottawa triangle" elicited the sour observation from Pelletier that "my friend Rene Levesque was never gitted in geometry."
France is not going to pay Quebec much in money or kind for the privilege of watching the spectacle of separatism unfold, but Levesque goes home justifiably pleased that he can tell his electorate that now enjoys the backing of the French-speaking world if it carries out its threats to break up Canada.
Until last week, it was generally asssumed that the late French Ppresident Charles de Gaulle's foray into French Canada to cry out, "Long live free Quebec," had been the aberration of a unique personage who thought his lapses as the abandonment to British rule of the French of Canada by Louis XV.
Giscard d'Estaing was one of the first to demand a righting of relations with Canada, so much so that French diplomats were caught entirely off guard by his turnabout last week. They were still stressing to anyone who would listen that Levesque could say or think what he pleased but that no French Cabinet minister would ever go to Quebec without also visiting the federal capital of Ottawa.
Like De Gaulle, who delighting in leaving his diplomats proclaiming an official line he had rendered hollow. Giscard D'Estaing was publicly telling Levesque, meanwhile, that Quebec could count on French "understanding, confidence and support" along whatever "path it decided to take."
Then came the pledge of exchanges of prime ministerial visits, an arrangement whose portent French diplomats will have trouble dismissing as routine if the Canadian government protests.
A visit by a French prime minister to Quebec in two years, presumably on the eve of the independence referendum Levesque has promised for 1979 or 1980, could create a major diplomatic incident if the Ottawa government were to declare him unwelcome.
Giscard d'Estaing conversion to the Quebec cause could also bring trouble at home. From the French Basque country, a region that has been quiet compared to the open rebellion of many Basques in Spain the Basque People's Socialist Party asked, "How can we defend the right of Peoples of the Amrican continent and combat them on the territory of the French state. Are there good separatists who speak French and bad separatists who speak Basque, Breton, Provencal or Corsican."
Although all the parties in the French National Assembly united to invite Levesque to address them, there were two notable absentees - French Socialist leader Francois Mitterrand and, ironically, Gaullist leader Jacques Chirac.
Mitterrand was presumably waiting to see how the situation develops, but Chirac was in Corsica underlining the parallels between Gaullism and Bonapartism, still the official party label of numerous elected officials in Napoleon's native island.
While Chirac was off hunting that there might be something wrong with France's revived interest in Quebec because of the timing or because the source was Giscard rather than the press documents showing that Charles de Gaulle had been a secret believer in Quebec independencd for years before he "spontaneously" endorsed it.
The Quotidien de Paris reproduced a 1963 note from De Gaulle saying, "French Canada will necessarily become a state and it is with that prospect in mind that we should act." Three years later, the French leader scribbled a note in the margin of a request from his ambassador in Ottawa that the general send Canada a congratulatory note for its centennial celebration.
"We have no reason," replied De Gaulle, "to congratulate either the Canadians or ourselves for the creation of a "state" founded of a part of the French people in a British ensemble. Besides, that ensemble has become very fragile."
A year later, De Gaulle was speaking out in Canada for a free Quebec and his diplomats were explaining that the words had slipped out in the heat of the moment.
To multiply the ironies, Levesque spent years thereafter pooh-poohing the importance of De Gaulle's iniative. In an interview in Montreal in 1970, he openly mocked De Gaulle and Francce's belated interest in a cause that, he said, would be pursued without French help.
French officials who knew him then were fond of recalling how Levesque used to speak of his bitter experiences when, as a conquering hero in the U.S. Army, he helped liberate France. They recounted that he said he often overheard nasty anti-American remarks by Frenchmen who assumed that he was just another GI who understood no French. They also said he complained he had not enjoyed the same success with the liberated made-moiselles as his Yankee comrades-in-arms.
This week, however, no one in Frence was calling Rene Levesque a crybaby."