Canada vs. France

March 25, 2009

Which countries are closest to Canada? Think about that for a second. Yes, the U.S. That’s a given. But also Denmark (Greenland), Russia and … France.

Seriously. France has two little islands off the eastern coast of Canada, Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, and they’re still part of their motherland. They’re very small, with just 6,000 residents. They’re in a lot of trouble, too; when the cod fisheries collapsed, the primary industry of the islands collapsed, too. But now these two little stowaways are at the centre of a brewing crisis.

The islands, with France’s backing, wants to claim areas of the seabed that are, by treaty, part of Canada. The reasoning is sound: something has to be done to bolster the struggling economy of these two little bumps in the ocean. But the legalities of it are the problem.

“Canada regrets the Government of France’s decision to submit a letter of intent to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf claiming an extended continental shelf for Saint-Pierre and Miquelon,” Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said yesterday.

Here’s the problem: in 1992, Canada and France ratified a deal to delineate just which parts of the seabed belong to Canada and which to France. France, now, is challenging that deal and wants more. More what? Seabed? Shipwrecks and fish poo? No: the ocean floor off Canada’s east coast is a booming oilfield, and has helped transform struggling provinces like Newfoundland from fisheries-based economies to oil giants. Maybe you saw the movie: There Will Be Cod.

American bloggers and pundits are calling this a “war” between Canada and France. But it isn’t even close. It’s another diplomatic scuffle, like the problems going on in Arctic waters. It will be resolved, and will blow over, and be forgotten.

But it may draw attention to Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, a slice of North America that’s long been ignored — by Canadians, by Americans, and even by the French. Its people need a boost to survive. Violating an existing treaty isn’t it, but getting attention might be the way.



  1. Interestingly, this seems to be happening at the same time that the French overseas territory of Mayotte (a tiny set of islands to the east of Africa in the Indian Ocean) is trying to pass a resolution to become a full-fleged part of France (this resolution will likely pass with a huge majority). The economies of most of the French overseas territories (be they departments or collectivities) seem to be crumbling. It’ll be interesting to see where this leads to …

  2. sorry, I know this is really childish, but if you hover over ‘scuffle’ with the mouse (as I did quite accidentally), it appears to read- ‘It’s another diplomatic souffle’, and you can’t beat a good souffle’ eh?! How very French

  3. Mais oui, Petit-loup.

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