MONTREAL — Prime Minister Stephen Harper defended his government's recognition of an independent Kosovo yesterday even as sovereigntists in Quebec celebrated the move as a precedent-setting boost for their movement.
A day after his government officially recognized the onetime Serbian province, Mr. Harper insisted Kosovo was a "unique" case that had no bearing on Quebec.
"It's a completely different situation from the democratic debate in Canada and Quebec," Mr. Harper told reporters in London, Ont.
He said war and suffering by the Kosovars prompted the international community to intervene and eventually led to a "de facto separate state."
Quebeckers, meanwhile, are tired of debates and referendums on independence, the Prime Minister said. "They want to get on with building a strong Quebec within a strong Canada."
The Parti Québécois has seized on Ottawa's move as evidence Canada was prepared to recognize a newborn state that achieved independence over the objections of the country it left.
In an interview, former PQ premier Bernard Landry said that despite major differences with Quebec, Kosovo illustrates "that the right of nations to independence is a sacred thing."
"Canada, as tradition dictates, did what it had to do," he said. "How could it recognize Kosovo … and say it will not recognize the independence of Quebec?
"The right of Quebec to independence is clear, and when it's democratically decided, Canada will recognize it, because Canada is a great democracy."
Ottawa has tiptoed around Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia, waiting a month before following the leads of allies such as the United States.
Serbia responded to Canada's nod yesterday by temporarily recalling its ambassador, who warned that Ottawa's decision would buoy Quebec secessionists seeking to unilaterally declare independence.
Both sovereigntists and federalists in Quebec underscored important differences between Quebec and Kosovo, which was marred by conflict and ethnic cleansing in the wake of the breakup of Yugoslavia.
Liberal Premier Jean Charest refused to draw parallels.
"The situation in Kosovo is not at all the same as what we have here in Quebec," he said in Quebec City. "I don't think you can really compare the two."
The Bloc Québécois criticized Canada for dragging its feet on the decision for fear of playing into the hands of the Quebec sovereignty movement.
"We're happy with the recognition [of Kosovo] because it's a sign that a new country is joining the concert of nations," said Bloc MP Vivian Barbot. "But the government was very slow."
Political scientist Stephen Saideman, a scholar of separatism at McGill University, said Kosovo and Quebec are so different that Ottawa's decision would have little impact.
"Over the past 40 years, Ottawa and Quebec have negotiated and bargained to give Quebec most of what it wants, whereas in Kosovo, the Kosovars never saw a chance of being a significant member of the political community in Serbia," said Prof. Saideman, Canada Research Chair in International Security and Ethnic Conflict.
But Alain Gagnon, a political scientist at the University of Quebec in Montreal, said Canada's blessing would certainly provide inspiration for Canada's homegrown independence movement. "[Kosovo] is a full-fledged nation that decided to exercise its right to self-determination," said Prof. Gagnon, Canada Research Chair in Quebec and Canadian Studies. "It offers proof that independence is a realistic and feasible project."
With a report from Rhéal Séguin in Quebec City