Former Saskatchewan Premier Roy Romanow said he was glad he had a plan in case Quebec separated from Canada and is even happier he didn't have to use it.
Romanow told CBC News this morning that he set up a secret team of Saskatchewan officials to consider the possibility that the Prairie province might leave Canada in the event of a "Yes" win in Quebec's sovereignty referendum in 1995.
"The mandate was, just sit down, blue sky what you think all the options are; the pros and the cons and let's talk about this, in case the vote goes the wrong way," he said. "Happily, it went the right way."
He said he couldn't contemplate leaving Canada, but it was important to keep all the options open.
"My thinking was that what we should do, the prudent thing to do, is to get a committee of three or four civil servants who knew the file and lets sit down and review all the options just in case the worst nightmare came about," he said.
Task force created
Romanow said he instructed the task force in the fall 1994 to explore every scenario, including an option for Saskatchewan to separate from the rest of Canada. Also on the table was the possibility that the province would form an alliance with Alberta and British Columbia to leave the country. A third possibility looked at whether Saskatchewan might be annexed to the United States. The committee also examined the possibility of Saskatchewan adopting the U.S. dollar.
He said they took that idea of annexing to the United States "a bit seriously, but not very greatly." He said they were not doing anything similar to Quebec.
"What I was doing was acting in the interest of the voters and people of Saskatchewan which was my sworn duty in the eventuality, in anticipation, of the worse-case scenario, which I would do all that I could to defeat and I did try to do all I could do to defeat," he said.
"My dad came to this country to be a Canadian. He didn't know where it was. He didn't understand anything about it. Just got on a boat from Ukraine and came here. I was born here, the only one in our family born here. He loved Canada. He died a strong patriot. I come from that background. I couldn't contemplate the notion of not living in anything but Canada."
Romanow said he had to keep the committee's work secret because it was such a sensitive issue at the time, and because of the reason it's garnering attention almost 20 years later.
"Can you imagine in the middle of a campaign, which was being conducted on independence in Quebec, some sort of story that says Saskatchewan is considering joining the United States or some other idea of that nature?" he said. "It couldn't work."
A secret revealed
This bit of Saskatchewan history was kept secret until last week when Maclean's Magazine published a review of a new book by Chantal Hébert, a Toronto Star columnist and CBC At Issue panellist, that's being released Sept. 2.
In The Morning After: The Quebec Referendum and the Day that Almost Was, it's revealed that Romanow set up a special committee to assess options for Saskatchewan if Quebec were to separate.
The committee's work was filed under the "boring" title of Constitutional Contingencies — "a choice," said Hebert (whose book was written with the assistance of Quebec pundit Jean Lapierre) "intended to discourage curiosity.
The book says Romanow's committee was funded "off the books, outside the provincial Treasury Board process, to ensure its secrecy."
Ultimately, the "No" side won a narrow victory in the referendum.
Details about the Saskatchewan committee were revealed to Hébert by Romanow about 18 months ago. Before the interview with Hébert, he had never spoken publicly about the committee’s work.
Replay the Saskatoon Morning live chat.