JANUARY 24, 1980
On a Working Hypothesis
AN ADDRESS BY The Honourable Rene Levesque, PRIME MINISTER OF QUEBEC
JOINT MEETING of The Empire Club of Canada and The Canadian Club of Toronto
CHAIRMAN John A. MacNaughton, President, The Empire Club of Canada
Ladies and gentlemen of The Empire Club of Canada and The Canadian Club of Toronto: The novelist Somerset Maugham was a genius of table talk. In his fiction a frequently and a charmingly utilized setting for an exchange of ideas and sentiments was a dining room in a home in the English countryside, in a gracious hotel on the Mediterranean coast of France or in a rundown cafe on the South Pacific. Whatever the locale, Somerset Maugham capitalized on the fact that when men and women sit down to break bread together an amity and usually an openness, or at a minimum an inquisitiveness, develop that allow all present to benefit from the communication that takes place.
A luncheon meeting, such as the one arranged today to host the Honourable Rene Levesque, Prime Minister of the Government of Quebec, builds on the observation exploited by Maugham in his novels that food and friendship and intellectual curiosity compliment one another.
For the two clubs joined here today as co-hosts of this event, the formula of combining a midday meal with an address by a prominent individual has worked for many years as a constructive vehicle for the development and promotion of understanding of new ideas and new information.
One of Mr. Levesque's predecessors, Premier Adelard Godbout, put it succinctly in his address to the Empire Club in 1940 when he began with the following thoughts:
Ce West pas la premiere fois que la voix francaise de Quebec se fait entendre au coeur meme du Canada anglais. Vous avez accuelli les orateurs avec une bienveillance marquee. Il est resulte de ces rencontres, de ces echanges d'idees qui suivent toujours une allocution, lorsque discoureur et auditoire sont des amis, une intelligence plus vive de l'histoire, des caracteres et des moeurs du Canada francais, et, partant, une sympathie plus directe et plus agissante.
De tel contacts sont precieux. II ne faut point perdre l'occasion de les renouveler.
Premier Levesque is here to speak about his proposals for sovereignty association. No doubt he is under no illusions as to how a large portion of the individuals gathered here would vote if they had an opportunity to express themselves in the upcoming referendum. A Quebec nationalist looking for an endorsement of sovereignty association would be unlikely to choose organizations with names like the Empire Club and the Canadian Club as the ones to be most responsive to his views.
Nonetheless our guest of honour can be confident that his audience today respects him for the forthright manner in which he presents his arguments and admires him for the determination of his advocacy.
Peter Desbarats, in his book Rene, A Canadian in Search of a Country, wrote the following words:
English Canadians also hear Levesque. There is enough dissatisfaction with their own national experience, enough yearning for a more complete future, to give his words resonance in other provinces. From a distance, English Canadians can feel the attraction of his ideas and the force of his personality.
Two years ago, Hugh MacLennan, author in 1945 of Two Solitudes, made this observation in a Brockington Lecture to Queen's University:
Levesque succeeded in doing something no other Canadian politician has ever done. A nation which has always been polarized psychologically is now, thanks to him, polarized politically. He has managed to wake up English Canadians to a few realities about this nation of ours.
Ladies and gentlemen, as we all know, Mr. Levesque is an advocate of a new political structure for Canada. He is in Toronto today, and here particularly at this gathering, as part of his campaign to present his proposals for sovereignty association.
We are here, Mr. Levesque, not to collectively pass judgment on your proposals, but individually in the knowledge that the referendum to be held shortly in Quebec is an important event in the history of our country. As men and women with an intense interest in public affairs we come with a desire not only to learn the details of your proposed structural changes, but also to appreciate better the hopes and aspirations of our compatriots in Quebec.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have been honoured by Premier Levesque's selection of our clubs as the audience for his major referendum campaign statement outside of Quebec. It is my pleasure to invite him to speak to us on the topic "On a Working Hypothesis."
Mes chers amis, ladies and gentlemen: First of all, let me thank all of you for joining together with us, to break bread in such an intimate setting for table talk, such as Somerset Maugham wrote about.
Very simply, but very sincerely, I want to thank you for inviting me to this joint meeting of the Empire and Canadian clubs--in spite of your graciously hopeless remarks about the results, which were not corrected by Hugh MacLennan.
I was led to understand that traditionally your two clubs are quite separate, each holding on to its full sovereignty. And yet sometimes it is found possible to merge your sovereign entities to such contracts of association. I know this probably will not be the most fruitful of such occasions, but let me hope, at least, that it will not sour you on such a promising, modern, up-to-date trend.
I'd like, at the very beginning, warmly to join as a former colleague and, up to a point, a former disciple, in your welcome back to John Fisher. Then briefly, I'd like to thank you also for inviting me specifically to Toronto, and in January! January is such a quiet, relaxed month. That's why I accepted. I was sure it wouldn't be like the last time, which was in May, right in the middle of a real election campaign. But in a well-organized political system such as ours, late January and February are bound to be a quiet, relaxed time, when nothing much of consequence can happen--except maybe the Quebec Carnival, to which you are all invited, by the way.
Don't you agree that this is exactly the impression we all get from reading the papers and watching TV during the current "off season?" In fact, I'd say this is rather a time of year for the reflective approach; I'd even say philosophical, up to a point. Philosophy is a vocation that the odd public man has been known to practise, even brilliantly, in the not so distant past. It seems to be a bit out of fashion right now, but you never know--the call may come again. And the throne from which such profound thinking has to descend, I am told, might very well emerge in Toronto. Now, I wouldn't attempt to fill such a void. I'm certainly not looking for a throne. Not today!
But in all modesty, and just to reawaken your appetites for philosophy a bit, I'd like to reflect for a few moments on the notion and reality of change, which has become so pervasive that nobody can get away from it. We just saw the uncertain seventies slipping away, after the many shocks of the sixties. And after so many years of turmoil, most of us, I am sure, thought and hoped that we would get a certain amount of well deserved stability during this new decade.
But here we are already, with 1980 not quite four weeks old, and Ontario again has the balance of power and will perhaps find new ways of using it. And then, a referendum in Quebec, which might very well also change a few things. And a presidential election in the United States, which is largely, until further notice, run from Tehran and Moscow. And Indira Ghandi is back. This could be a year for resuscitations. And Mayor Drapeau, I am told, is already thinking about an instant, highly low-cost Olympic set-up before the end of the winter.
In a nutshell, here we go again. The coming years, even more than ones before, are going to impose more and more significant, radical, hard-to-face changes and challenges, social, economic and political, world-wide, continent-wide and country-wide.
The initial reaction to such a perspective is, as always and everywhere, like the old reporters A-B-C. Now what? And why? And what for? How? For whom? That's basically healthy except when you start believing, against all evidence, that the problem will solve itself and simply go away through the simple magic of another vote, perhaps another budget, and certainly another deficit.
There is also another extreme that we also have to keep away from, and that is diving into change for the simple pleasure of change, for the fun of moving things around without too much thought of cost or consequences.
In between, when political and/or economic change is called for and well planned, all who are concerned and who have the courage to face up to it are likely to gain. If change is called for and refused, everyone eventually will lose.
In such a world as the one we are in, and with all the stirring and the shaking that we have seen in our own institutions, especially over the last generation, it isn't exactly a sacrifice to ask ourselves, "Do we, by any chance, also need basic change in our political setup after 113 years?" I know how easy it is to be for change in Iran or Chile or other faraway places, as remote as possible. But it is always difficult to accept when we ourselves are affected, and that is precisely why, when the question touches home base, change is a supreme test of a people's, or a society's maturity, of its clear mindedness.
I propose that the answer to the question, as far as we are concerned on both sides in Canada, obviously is "yes." I am talking about two sides. There are many other sides, but there are two very deeply basic sides in Canada. And everybody agrees verbally that we do; need significant, far-reaching, well planned and well understood political change.
The reason, the wherefore, essentially lies in Quebec, and more specifically, in French Quebec. Because like it or not, there is in Canada one of two very distinct societies, call it what you wish--a nation, a culture, a founding people--whose full development and whose ever-rising if not always clearly recognized aspirations are largely hampered by the federal system.
I am not at all pretending that in the beginning and for some time after this arrangement all told did not serve Quebec's basic interests as well as others. But the fact remains that our survival, as we used to say, and our partial development in many fields, had mostly little or nothing to do with federalism, but much more with the willingness of our people to hold on for dear life to their identity and to those collective institutions they were allowed to build and maintain, mostly at great cost, and more often than not in spite of pressures from the central government and its know-all technocracy.
That now has to make way for something else. I have to say it the way I see it. Those who cannot or will not see the inability of the federal formula to accommodate fully the emergence in Quebec of a modern, but still essentially distinct national society are, with due respect, authentic or make-believe ostriches. For that is the root of the problem and the reason for inevitable change. It can be delayed, but sometimes--like justice delayed--it costs a lot more. Fundamental, inevitable change is there, facing us.
It's all very well to pay lip service to la difference, and then to become clearly or subtly negative the moment it dares to assert itself, to hold forth vigorously about undeserved "special" privilege. That has been going on for some time, and we can all see where it took us. The simple fact is that a desire for privilege has nothing to do with the way we look to the future--and by "we" I mean what will be shown to be a majority in Quebec.
For instance, we don't think that we should try to impose on the rest of Canada new institutions and ways of doing things foreign to its political and other traditions or to its own aspirations. We certainly do not pretend that we deserve to be any better off than others, or pampered because we were here first or because our language and institutions in many ways are different--or even because "O Canada" does sound better in the original French. Neither does our distinctiveness blind us to many other differences, regional, provincial and even cultural, that also exist throughout English-speaking Canada. We know that Saskatchewan is not New Brunswick. We know that the western provinces also have legitimate grievances against Ottawa. We know that the Maritimes have not always had a fair shake, that (unbelievable but true) Ontario itself is a bit worried nowadays. Not only do we know all about that, we do not pretend that our grievances are in any way superior to others. In fact, I often believe that one of the main reasons why so much remains unsolved everywhere is the sort of predominance which has been obsessively given--mostly in words, never in actual decision--to the "Quebec problem."
There is a deep misunderstanding and rejection of the one central basic aspect of the problem and the only possible key to its solution. It has nothing to do with any kind of quest for privilege or absurd claim to being better than anybody else. It has to do with a deeply held, ever-growing desire for a new kind of relationship between two distinct peoples, a relationship based on the universally recognized principle of fundamental equality among nations. And not just the principle, but also its political application. I am confident that as of this coming spring it will become very clear that our people in Quebec will be content with no more and no less. There will be doubts and denials, caricature and distortion, a lot of wishful thinking, along with quite a lot of nervous Nellies in Quebec itself.
But facts are very hard-headed. And how this fact came about, this new consciousness of national maturity in Quebec, again has to do with change. It is part of our times and we are caught up in them. By realizing, rather belatedly after the Second World War, that it was called for, by accepting its necessity, and by implementing it rather successfully, the feeling and now the certainty is that we, as a closely knit and different cultural and national community, have finally come of age.
It was called, as you know, the Quiet Revolution. It flourished in the sixties, after germinating below ground ever since the Second World War. It brought first, as these things always do along with changes in attitudes and aspirations, an unprecedented explosion in artistic creativity. And with the pride and confidence in that there came an appetite for more, in other fields. So there was the revamping of education, of social programs, the launching of new collective instruments like the pension fund, the expansion of Hydro-Quebec, and a gradual but constant increment in confidence and know-how.
To bring us closer to current history, how else could you explain that Quebec could survive so well and even prosper after a catastrophe such as our election in 1976? Not only to survive and prosper, but also to weather quite successfully another bout of substantial and far-reaching change. In that perspective we had made a number of major, specific promises--seven in all--during our election campaign. All of them were challenges. Most of them had been talked about for years, and often promised, but had never before been tackled.
In order, they were: first, to abolish secret electoral funds and to bring as much integrity as humanly possible to public administration; second, to reform the automobile insurance system; third, to extend health care services, especially for the young and the elderly; fourth, to increase government help to small and medium-sized business; fifth, to reform municipal financing; sixth, to preserve and develop our agricultural land; seventh, to increase housing programs in the perspective of finding a way to a full-fledged housing policy. In addition, we were committed to solve, once and for all, the recurring linguistic crisis, to do something about asbestos, our most strategic natural resource, and last but not least to hold a referendum on the constitutional future of Quebec.
After forty months as a government, we have met each and every one of those promises. There is still work to be done. There always will be, and the referendum will not take place until the coming spring. But on the whole, we have done precisely what we said we would. Of course, adjustments had to be made. Some idealism had to give way to some realities, but all the essentials are there.
There was also the typical initial reaction when change is faced. When first introduced, some of these measures resulted, quite naturally, in an outcry from the many quarters where long-standing comfortable positions were disturbed, or from those who thought themselves singled out for what they considered to be discriminatory treatment.
You have certainly heard about Bill 101 on language. That was the change which was received with the most hostility by business groups, both inside and outside Quebec, and by members of our own English-speaking community. But two years later, the C.D. Howe Research Institute, which cannot be suspected of Parti Quebecois affiliation to say the least, just yesterday released the first scientific evaluation of Law 101 concerning its impact on business and the work place. Here's what they say in the conclusion of this study:
We believe that some form of government intervention, in the form and substance it took in Laws 22 and 101, was necessary. -(Bill 22 was the former Bourassa government's effort at legislation.) An analysis of the principles and measures of both laws has led us to conclude that in so far as the francization of the business firm is concerned, Law 101 is in many respects more reasonable and effective than Law 22, because it attempts to be universal and to pursue exclusively linguistic aims. Ambiguities such as "the francophone presence" are absent. Moreover, head offices and research centres are excluded, under some conditions, from the programs in Law 101 and are to be negotiated for these entities.
This piece of work, entitled "Canadian Business Response to the Legislation on Francization in the Work Place for the C. D. Howe Institute" was coauthored by Yvon Alert and Roger Miller. By the way, for collectors of irrelevant detail, I may inform you that one of the authors, Mr. Alert, happens to be a member of the Quebec Liberal party's constitution commission which was recently in the news with a certain report on a rather uncertain future.
I can also remember that initially negative reaction, par for the course, greeted our no-fault automobile insurance system. They said it would never work, that premiums would shoot up sky high. "Just look at British Columbia." Well, we did look at British Columbia--after looking at Saskatchewan, and Michigan and Massachusetts and other states along the way. The Cassandras eventually piped down on that subject--and went on to holler about something else.
I must say that we're used to that, and rather well vaccinated by now. Way back in 1962, I remember when it was said insistently that Hydro-Quebec could never succeed in the take-over and subsequent efficient management of the old power companies. For some unfathomable reason, dams built in French by Quebec engineers and workers would never stand the pressures. Wasn't it also a fact that the computer could hardly learn French? Since then, there has been Maniquadon and then James Bay, both in their time the biggest power projects in the western world.
Last, but not least, this growing competence is also visible not just in technology but in all economic affairs where it is now percolating like mad. I know that some of you may still think that Quebec is economically going down the drain. That comes mainly, I think (and with due respect to my old profession) from news treatment. News treatment is too often exclusively based on that old cliché of journalism that "good news is no news." Any time that cliché is married to an editor or a reporter who has a bit of prejudice it can play havoc with information. I'm sure that with the high standards prevailing in the Toronto area, there's not too much of that here!
But just to set the record straight, in a nutshell, it may be useful to say that recently, especially in 1978 and 1979, Quebec's economic results have been rather impressive, due most of all to the performance of our mostly home-grown producers in the private field, but also in some measure to the policies of our government, and certainly not to the policies emanating from Ottawa over the last year or so -nothing has emanated.
In 1979, for instance, 76,000 new jobs were created in the first ten months, 32,000 of them in the manufacturing sector. With appropriate modesty, I'd like to quote the Financial Times of last December 3, in case you missed it:
It is a fact, for example, that the Quebec economy has grown faster than the Ontario economy in the past three years, since the election. Wages and salaries have advanced faster than in Ontario, as well as producing a rapid rise in the personal disposable income of the average Quebecker. Quebec's unemployment rate still runs ahead of Ontario, but the gap has been closed a little.
Needless to say, we are still not satisfied. Who is satisfied nowadays? But in summary, the last twenty years or so, including the last three, have been a continuous process of maturing for Quebec society, and along with some mistakes, rather incredible progress. Naturally, there has been a gradual buildup of normal self-confidence.
All of that, by contrast, has served also to dramatize the fact that during that same span of a whole generation most of our problems have related to our belonging to a federal framework. Certainly all major problems still remain unresolved.
To cite just a few brief examples. First, the general and overall impact of federal economic policies on Quebec. Study after study have come to conclusions that are monotonously similar. In science and research, in agriculture, in housing, in industrial promotion, federal policies have regularly had largely negative effects for Quebec. Take, for instance, transportation costs. To transport a ton of paper from Donnacona, Quebec to New York, a distance of 540 miles, costs about thirty-one dollars. Transportation cost for another ton of paper, more or less the same, from Thorold, Ontario to Chicago, about 500 miles, is fifteen dollars. That is half the cost. The difference is the result of transportation tariffs, and you know who sets them. Don't ever doubt that you have the balance of power.
For instance, again, there are billions of dollars and tens of thousands of jobs in the great range of some four hundred federal corporations and other federal public instruments spread around all over Canada. But substantially less than ten per cent of all their activities in any field have found their way to the province which still has twenty-seven per cent of the population and which pays its share of the freight.
Speaking of population, while the inequities I just mentioned and others are built into the economic way of doing things in the system as it is, census after census keeps repeating that as a minority people our numbers are becoming less significant, especially in relative political clout. The election of May 1979 made that brutally clear. I don't think that even if we put our federal eggs even more in the same basket this time around that it will enhance our bargaining power by one bit.
I could go on and on repeating the old tired corrections to a system which from the point of view of the national society we constitute in Quebec too often only add insult to injury. Sufficient to say that as far as such corrections are concerned, no progress of any significance has been made concretely over the years. In the same federal context, with the prevailing mood outside Quebec, none is to be seriously expected.
Among the reasons for what I call the prevailing mood, there are two that can be identified. They stare us in the face and they have been well documented. First, according to the Pepin-Robarts Report--the last major psychoanalysis of the Canadian situation--Canadians outside Quebec do not seem to be aware, or refuse to be aware, of the existence of a political crisis inside Canadian institutions. If this is true, how can anyone expect them to press their governments for significant constitutional change? Second, the majority of Canadians outside Quebec, especially in Ontario, do not question the federal system simply because they agree with all or most of its basic arrangements. For many Canadians outside Quebec, that means a centralized system and a stronger central government.
In that regard, a report recently published by the Council for Canadian Unity, following meetings in different cities in Ontario and entitled Outlook Ontario, 1979 is very revealing. The first chapter of that report deals with "the mood in Ontario," vis-a-vis the division of powers in the constitution. The mood is described as follows:
There is a wide consensus in the discussions that it is over-decentralization rather than over-centralization that is one of the real dangers confronting Canada today. . . . The overall emphasis in the discussions was on the need to protect the central government in its power to make decisions for the country as a whole.
This would mean that a great many Ontarians do not feel the need to change the British North America Act, in spite of much verbal output, except towards more centralization. This is the absolute contrary to the desire of a clear majority of Quebeckers, whatever their party. They are looking for a much more decentralized system. And this takes us right back to square one, right back but -113 years later--in very different circumstances to the basic misunderstanding upon which the Canadian federation was literally founded.
For Ontario especially, and English Canadians generally, the federal system was something that was to provide for a strong, even if possible a quasi-unitary central government and a chance for what was then called "nation building." At the other extreme, for French Quebec, the federal system was supposed to provide minimum security in order for it to survive as a cultural and linguistic identity, and also a chance for more and more autonomy--in other words, less and less centralization.
Recent developments bring us to the third basic reason for the constitutional deadlock. That has been well expressed by many scholars of solid reputation but, unfortunately, of rather weak political following. To take one clear, rather eloquent and recent example, in 1979 in an article on the so-called "unity debate," Milton Moore of the department of economics of the University of British Columbia wrote this:
The only alternative to independence so far proffered to the Quebecois has been that they adopt all of Canada as their bilingual homeland and Quebec as their unilingual homeland. From the outset, that offer suffers from two fatal defects. The consent of the electorate of the English-speaking provinces will never be granted. The aspirations of the Quebecois will not be satisfied until they have secured Quebec as their homeland for themselves alone. It is conceivable that the language problem could be resolved by a restructuring of the federation along the Swiss pattern, with Quebec unilingual French, New Brunswick divided into French- and English-speaking regions, the other provinces unilingual English-speaking and the federal government bilingual only in the national capital. But that arrangement would resolve only the language problem. (I would have to tell Mr. Moore that I doubt that it would.) To realize their aspirations, the Quebecois must win full control over language, culture, economic development and certain international relations.
I don't believe, and I will never believe in any kind of culture that becomes a ghettoized museum piece, that does not have a foundation in economics and some control over its destiny and its development. Otherwise, there is no use hanging on to a language. This confirms the absolute basic necessity of that statement by Mr. Moore: "To realize their aspirations, the Quebecois must win full control over language, culture, economic development and certain international relations." He goes on:
This cannot be achieved by the granting of special status, because it would be unacceptable to others that Members of Parliament for Quebec should participate in the formulation of policies for other areas. It is arguable that the interests of all parties would be better served by the extreme version of sovereignty association, originally proposed by the Parti Quebecois.
If I may just bring in for a moment a second and formerly quite affirmative voice, this one from way way back in 1971 after the abortion of the Victoria Conference.
What just happened goes to show how real and fundamental is the existence in Canada of not one but two nations, and true discussion will begin only when English Canada finally admits that no miracle man will be able to deliver Quebec on any kind of silver platter.
This second authority was, at that time, a prominent Montreal editorial writer by the name of Claude Ryan. I'll leave for you to judge how close he has come in recent times to sounding a bit like that miracle man he was deriding nine years ago.
One thing is for sure. The worst that can possibly happen, and this is essentially the outlook of the Quebec provincial Liberals recently, is to pay lip service to duality and then to forget all about it when designing institutions. One cannot say (as they have just done) that at the same time Quebec is a distinct society, or that there are two founding peoples in this country, and then go about restricting this duality to the membership of a sub-committee of a yet-to-be created federal council which, by itself, would be a monstrosity. Since you cannot have your cake and eat it too, the principle of duality cannot function, and will never function in a federal formula with ten provinces. We are either a province, or we are something else. I believe that the rest of Canada will never accept a federalism where one province is given any kind of really special status, although that expression is not taboo, while at the same time forcing all provinces and Ottawa to change their basic relationship. Such a contraption might perhaps be helpful in the very short term to win elections, but I doubt it, or to win referendums, and of that I am sure not. It certainly is no way to build a viable country.
If ever the federal formula were to be reformed along some of the lines that have been recently proposed, you should know as well as I what will happen. If the status of Quebec as a political minority is once again institutionalized, while complicating the system more than ever, by the same token we would also make recrimination, political blackmail and constant vetoes a permanent feature of our affairs.
I know that there are those for whom the wish is father to the thought, who think comfortably that first we will lose the referendum, and second that we will lose the election, and then the problem will be solved. It inspires nice relaxed columns like the one I was reading this morning in one of your business pages. Now, with the present state of economics, I must say that I don't treat business pages as gospel anymore! But even if those two happy events that I mentioned came about, soon, in actual fact the Quebec problem would become more acute than ever before. Whether we win or not, I am truly convinced that even if we lost very shortly afterwards the change that we propose, sovereignty association, will come to be recognized as the only logical, the only politically rational and humanly satisfactory solution to our problem which always gives us the temptation of trying to square the circle. It can't be done.
What we call sovereignty association goes by many names throughout the world. It not only recognizes the basic duality which we constitute in Canada both in theory and in practice, but if you ever come to look at it with something approaching an objective eye, you will find it surprisingly simple. As a political proposition we believe it makes sense, it is workable. I wouldn't go so far as to say it's an offer you can't refuse. But I would say that it's a sound proposition closely related to the Gordian knot that up to now nobody seems to have found a way of untying. It is closely related also to what is now a rather universal trend--and we belong to the same planet as others. It preserves what is essential about the idea of Canada--a common economic space, the free movement of people and ideas, of capital, even of profits, a transportation system, and whenever agreeable to both parties, many additional joint ventures. Do we really need more for each of our societies to develop according to their respective and specific outlooks?
At any rate, some time in the spring, the people of Quebec will be asked to give us a clear mandate to negotiate a new partnership. It will be a partnership, not a rupture. If a rupture should come, it will be because the basic democratic structure of both our societies cannot stand the pressure of change. But for the moment, what we are talking about from the heart as well as the mind--you only have to look at the map to see our intertwined realities and to know that these are required on both sides--is a new partnership with the rest of Canada.
A few weeks ago, we made public the proposed question for next spring. We have been criticized in some quarters, but in order to make it honest, clear on principle and sufficiently descriptive, we allowed that question to run all of thirteen lines, in this vein:
The Government of Quebec has made public its proposal to negotiate a new agreement with the rest of Canada based on the equality of nations. This agreement would enable Quebec to acquire the exclusive power to make its laws, administer its taxes and establish relations abroad, in other words, sovereignty, and at the same time to maintain with Canada an economic association including a common currency. Any change in political status resulting from these negotiations will be submitted to the people through a referendum. On such terms, do you agree to give the Government of Quebec the mandate to negotiate the proposed agreement between Quebec and Canada?
If a majority of Quebeckers, which is fifty per cent plus one, answer "yes" to that question, we will be ready to discuss our proposals with our eventual interlocutors. And since we are democratic on both sides, and since democratic governments work through votes, I think it is the only real chance to stop muddling through with ever diminishing returns when we know that there is a crisis and that it is hurting our institutions and making them less and less productive.
It is a chance for a new start and mutual respect, and something we never had before, a chance to aim at the kind of understanding that is nurtured between equals. That is the only foundation for real friendship.
I have no illusions about convincing many people here today. But please believe me when I say that I came here with the abiding faith in the possibility of minds opening on both sides to the promises of anew, joint future.
The thanks of The Empire Club of Canada and The Canadian Club of Toronto were expressed to Mr. Levesque by E. G. Burton, President of The Canadian Club of Toronto.