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De Gaulle Legacy Played Down for First State Visit in 20 Years

May 23, 1987

TORONTO (AP) _ Francois Mitterrand arrives Monday for the first state visit by a French president since Charles de Gaulle dropped a bombshell on Canadian politics 20 years ago, calling for a ″free Quebec.″

Canadian officials anticipate a more diplomatic visit this time. Mitterrand will become the first French president to tour English Canada, including Toronto and a grain farm in Saskatchewan, as well as French-dominated Quebec.

A sensitive fishery dispute between Canada and France will be discussed during formal talks, and Mitterrand will visit the center of the dispute, the French islands of St. Pierre-Miquelon off Newfoundland.

France claims a 200-nautical mile economic zone around the islands, overlapping with Canada’s similar claim for Newfoundland. Ottawa would like the dispute settled through international arbitration, but Paris has refused.

Canada accused French trawlers of ignoring quotas set by Ottawa in the disputed waters, and in retaliation, French vessels were banned from Canadian ports on March 17.

Canadian Foreign Secretary Joe Clark said he and Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney would ″vigorously″ pursue Canada’s case with Mitterrand and French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Bernard Raimond.

The French have been soft-pedaling DeGaulle’s remarks two decades ago at the Montreal city hall.

″We are not going to obliterate a page of Canadian history, but we are turning the page now,″ Canada’s ambassador to France, Lucien Bouchard, said refering to de Gaulle’s ″Vive le Quebec libre 3/8″ vision of a French toehold in North America.

Since that 1967 controversy, a separatist Parti Quebecois government has come and gone in Quebec. Voters rejected a 1980 referendum on a form of independence from Canada and have made economic prosperity their new priority.

But with its French-only language law, Canada’s largest province remains the only French society in North America. Native French speakers comprise 82 percent of the province’s 6.6 million people.

Since the 1984 election of Mulroney, a native of Quebec, tensions between ″la belle province″ and English Canada have eased.

However, strains between Quebec and Ottawa over relations with France surfaced last week when the federal government issued press kits for Mitterrand’s visit, leaving out Quebec which insisted on issuing its own kit.

Mitterrand will begin his five-day tour in Ottawa, where he will be greeted by Governor General Jeanne Sauve and Mulroney, and moves on to Quebec City and Montreal on Tuesday. Lunch is planned on the Gaspe Peninsula, near where Jacques Cartier first set foot in New France in 1534.

The French president will spend Wednesday in Regina, Saskatchewan, and will return to Toronto on Thursday to visit Canada’s largest stock exchange and hold a news conference.

He plans a brief airport meeting Friday with French Acadians, decendants of former French colonizers, in Moncton, New Brunswick. From there he will take a small plane to St. Pierre-Miquelon.

Looking ahead to the economic summit in Venice, Italy, next month, Mulroney said he will lobby Mitterrand for an end to the European Economic Community’s heavy farm subsidies that have driven down prices and led to increasing bankruptcies on Canadian farms.

Another topic may be Canada’s reported intention of acquiring a fleet of eight to 12 nuclear-powered submarines for its navy. French Rubis-class and British Trafalgar-class subs, each costing approximately $375 million (U.S.) are under consideration.

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