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Paul Martin's choice of Jean Lapierre as his Quebec lieutenant gave many Canadians pause, and not just because Mr. Lapierre was a co-founder of the Bloc Québécois. No sooner had the Quebec broadcaster received the nod than he was heaping scorn on the federal Clarity Act -- an important and effective tool for national unity.

Now, adding insult to injury (or so it would appear), Prime Minister Martin has filled out his Quebec roster with another half-dozen former sovereigntists, newly converted to the federalist cause. They include Lévis Brien, a former MNA for the Parti Québécois, as well as Michel Gaudette, Ghislaine Provencher, Jean-Marie Laliberté, Christian Bolduc and Côme Roy, all former members or organizers in either the Bloc or the PQ.

Could Mr. Martin be welcoming a Trojan horse into his midst, as prime minister Brian Mulroney did when he drew Lucien Bouchard and other Quebec nationalists into the Progressive Conservative Party in the mid-1980s? Warren Kinsella, a senior Liberal organizer in the Chrétien government, is incensed. "If you're not offended by the ethics of it, politically it's just a crazy move," he fumed this week. But is it really?

Granted, no one wants to see a return to the wrenching debates that arose from Mr. Mulroney's efforts to placate nationalists in his Quebec caucus. The arguments over the 1987 Meech Lake accord and the 1992 Charlottetown accord ig-nited passions that roiled the country. The PQ's victory in 1994 and the referendum on sovereignty the following year -- which the federalist side very nearly lost -- were at least partly the outgrowth of disenchantment in Quebec caused by thefailure to achieve a constitutional entente. No more. As Thomas Axworthy, a former chief of staff to prime minister PierreTrudeau, said in 1992, "Our mistake istrying to constitutionalize all our problems."

Nor should Mr. Martin's overture to Quebec soft nationalists become a rallying point for a new cluster of rigid extraconstitutional provincial demands, whether from Quebec or any other province. The Charlottetown accord failed in a referendum not just because the debates leading up to it raised conflicting regional expectations that could not be satisfied, but also because of a perception that it gave too much of the country away. Likewise, the Clarity Act succeeded precisely because it established that Canadians in every province, including Quebec, have interests that must be championed by the federal government.

But in fairness to Mr. Martin, there has been no hint whatever that a new constitutional round, or a wholesale devolution of powers to the provinces, or a repudiation of the Clarity Act is in the offing. On the contrary, the Prime Minister has said categorically that the Clarity Act is a closed matter. He has promised not to reopen the constitutional debate. And on the federal-provincial file he has insisted, for example, on the federal government's right to enforce the measures of the Canada Health Act. Yes, he has promised provincial premiers a new era of co-operation, greater openness and a team approach to solving national problems. After the rigidity of the later Chrétien years, this is all to the good.

This leaves the ticklish questions of nationalism and patriotism. But in this, English Canadians must be realistic. Many of Quebec's mainstream political players have, at one time or another, espoused nationalism. Jean Chrétien himself, the arch-federalist, referred to himself as a Quebec nationalist in 1990 when he was running for the Liberal leadership. And soft nationalism, as epitomized by former premier Robert Bourassa, is the majority view.

If Quebec's soft nationalists -- even those who once called themselves separatists -- can accept Mr. Martin's plainly federalist terms of entry, shouldn't they be welcome in Liberal ranks?