TORONTO, SEPT. 4 -- Just as relations between France and Canada were beginning to warm up after a 20-year chill, French Prime Minister Jacques Chirac revived the old conflict during a visit to Quebec this week for a summit of French-speaking nations.
First, Chirac affronted many Canadians by appearing to interfere in the political debate here over whether the country should remain a member of NATO. Although France withdrew from NATO's military command more than 20 years ago, Chirac said on Monday that New Democratic Party politicians who are urging a pullout "don't realize -- they are people of good faith -- that what they are proposing would transform their citizens into slaves, sooner or later."
NDP leader Ed Broadbent described the comments as almost "amusing," since his party's proposals were "quite similar" to the action France took in 1966.
The next day an undaunted Chirac raised hackles again by defending a speech Gen. Charles de Gaulle made 20 years ago from the balcony of Montreal's City Hall in which he encouraged advocates of the separation of French-speaking Quebec from Canada with the cry, "Vive le Quebec libre!" Chirac, in a radio interview, said Canadians should be grateful to de Gaulle because he had "explained to the world a problem which existed and which was ignored."
The Toronto Globe and Mail newspaper later commented sarcastically in an editorial: "If the Chinese can review their history to present Genghis Khan in a more positive light, the French are certainly entitled to consider their former president Charles de Gaulle as a sort of latter-day father of Canadian confederation."
In opening the conference on Tuesday, Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney said he hoped it would provide an opportunity to strengthen cooperative ventures between rich and poor nations in such areas as energy, agriculture, public health and education.