Quebec Update
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 5 Oct 1978, p. 6-19
Ryan, Claude, Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
The speaker addresses the Club in his new role as leader of the Liberal Party in the Province of Quebec. Remarks on the nature of the challenge to be faced in Quebec and comments on what is expected from fellow Canadians in what the speaker terms the "battle which lies ahead." Two factors which contribute to the attraction of the Parti Québécois. Four ways to challenge the Parti Québécois, with discussion. The federalist platform and how that will work. Strategies that will ensure six basic premises. Five crucial areas to cover in the months ahead. The significance of the media. Hoped-for assistance from provincial political leaders in the rest of Canada. Constitutional change and timing. The possibility of a new Confederation.
Date of Original
5 Oct 1978
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Full Text
OCTOBER 5, 1978
Quebec Update
CHAIRMAN The President, Reginald W. Lewis


Mr. Minister, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen: Today is both a happy and a sad occasion: happy, because it is a pleasure to be once again amongst the friendly membership that is this club; sad, because the speaker who was to address us in two weeks time is no longer with us. The Honourable John Rhodes, Minister of Industry and Tourism for the Province of Ontario, collapsed and died in Iran two weeks ago while about his province's business. Besides his gift of oratory, we can add humanity and dedicated service to all Ontarians. We will particularly miss him two weeks hence but his loss to Ontario is timeless.

It is a pleasure to welcome you back from the summer holiday season and to open the first meeting of our 75th anniversary year by presenting to you a most distinguished and well-known personage. With the exception of substituting 75th for 50th, the words I have just uttered ushered in the 50th anniversary year of this club. The president of the day, Mr. Inwood, then went on to warn the club of the adverse criticism from Miss Lotta Dempsey then of the Globe and Mail staff, who had threatened to picket that meeting if ladies were not invited to attend. How different today. Not only do ladies attend, but they provide a valuable, vocal, and completely integrated and substantial part of the membership of this club and of its board of directors.

When asked during a recent television interview about his capacity for work, the man being interviewed responded: "After seven or eight days I find a little time to shut the door of my study at home and begin reading the Bible or writings of religious authors ... it helps you be born again to the things you cherish most. Then you return to your work and try to be as good as you can."

A writer in The Financial Post writes about the same man: "the signal quality which will affect substantially all his dealings with others is his stern, uncompromising morality. Even in his moment of triumph, he spoke of honesty, balance, and morality."

And later in the television interview, these words: "I think each man has to answer a few calls in his life and they come in a more or less clear form ... In my case it came very, very clearly and if I was to be a man of courage, I had to answer the call."

These words, better than any of mine, describe the nature and character of the man who earlier this year was elected leader of the Quebec Liberal Party, and our speaker today, Mr. Claude Ryan.

It is not often that we hear words like this from or about a politician. Then it is not often that we encounter a politician of the stature of Claude Ryan. Educated in the Quebec classical college tradition, a study year at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, General Secretary of L'Action Catholique Canadien, writer and later publisher of the influential Quebec daily, Le Devoir, a recipient of the Canadian Council of Christians and Jews Human Relations award, member of the Canadian News Hall of Fame, Mr. Ryan appears on the political stage at a critical time in our history. 1 think that most of us share his philosophy that it is possible to be a Quebecker and a Canadian without sacrificing that uniqueness of character and culture that is the gift of the true Quebecker. Perhaps we shall gain a better insight into that philosophy as we listen to our speaker.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am honoured to introduce Mr. Claude Ryan, leader of the Quebec Liberal Party.


Mr. Chairman, Mr. Minister, distinguished head table guests, ladies and gentlemen: Je voudrais tout d'abord parler quelques mots en frangais pour vous remercier de votre accueil tres genereux.

I wish to congratulate The Empire Club of Canada on this 75th anniversary which it is celebrating this year. I had not realized, upon first accepting your invitation, that I would be with you on such a momentous occasion as this one. I wish to pay my respects, and extend my warmest wishes to you for the future. Thanks and congratulations on a job which has been well done and which I hope will long continue to be done by the club.

I wish to thank you most sincerely for this third opportunity which you are giving me today of addressing The Empire Club of Canada. One of your former presidents, who is a close friend of mine, was reminding me last night of the warm reception which he extended to me on your behalf about eight years ago.

Just to illustrate how things can change quickly and radically on the political scene, my first meeting with your club took place a few months before Robert Bourassa was swept into office as Quebec premier for the first time in April of 1970. I returned a few years later to address your club on a topic which I had entitled "The Price of Unity." That speech was delivered in the wake of the wide-spread euphoria which followed the second victory of the Bourassa government in 1973.

While most observers felt at the time that Quebec had probably done away in a definitive manner with the separatist threat, I kept insisting that the Parti Quebecois still represented a much more potent force than a superficial reading of the election results seemed to suggest at the time. The only thing I could not have foreseen then was that five years later I would be called upon to lead the Liberal Party in the battle against the P.Q. in the forthcoming referendum on the constitutional future of Quebec and Canada, and then hopefully, in a general election. I had still less expected that I would again be invited to address your club in my new role as leader of the Liberal Party.

The transition from the relatively comfortable role of the critic to that of the political leader is not an easy one by any account. Politics has its great moments of exhilaration, solidarity and triumph. Next to religion, I like to say, it is by its very nature the loftiest occupation that can be contemplated by man. But it is also an extremely tough world, in which only two species seem able to survive: those who are content with following the tide of the day without ever really committing themselves, and those who are really strong and dedicated to the pursuit of noble and deep-seated convictions, and in addition, have a lot of luck working for them. In my case, time alone will tell if I can survive.

But I can assure you of two things. First, after all the pressures which had been applied upon me in the months which preceded my decision to enter politics last January, I had no choice but to take the plunge into the agitated waters of party politics. Second, the first six months of my new career have naturally brought their fair share of bruises and frustrations, but on the whole the results have been rather encouraging.

In my remarks today, I should like to deal with the nature of the challenge which we are facing in Quebec and to also comment on what we expect from our fellow Canadians in the battle which lies ahead. The indications which we have gathered until now about the state of public opinion in Quebec since our convention last April have been rather encouraging. The membership of our party has nearly doubled within less than a year. From less than 50,000 last January, it had soared to 90,000 by the end of August and will certainly exceed the 100,000 mark by a good margin before the end of the present year.

I have gone to countless places in Quebec during the last six months. Everywhere the reception has been cordial, even warm. In the only confrontation which we have had with the P.Q. at the polls since our convention, that is to say in the (Montreal) Notre-Dame de Grace by-election which took place last July 5, we won handsomely not only in the English parts of the riding, but even in the 80% francophone city of Ville St. Pierre. The sixteen polls located in Ville St.-Pierre had given the P.Q. about 1,350 votes against 930 for the Liberals in November of 1976. This time we got nearly 1,100 votes against about 870 for the P.Q., which means that there had been a considerable reversal in the opinions of the voters.

Three opinion polls conducted in the last three or four months have equally shown that our party is now ahead of the P.Q. in popularity. These polls also suggest that the P.Q. still has a little edge over the Liberals among francophone voters, even if that was contradicted by the results of the Ville St.Pierre election. If one considers that we were about twenty-five points behind the P.Q. in opinion polls taken only a year ago, our resurgence in the last few months has been remarkable. But the battle, as you can see, is still far from won. As I underlined as early as 1973, the sectors of our population which still provide fertile ground for the P.Q. are those with considerable political clout and considerable orientation towards the future.

The attraction of the Parti Quebecois position lies in two 1 factors which can be easily understood. First, Confederation provides a facile and perfect scapegoat for the explanation of all our difficulties, whether one talks about agriculture, the textile industry, housing, unemployment, investment or the C.B.C.--all the things that have gone badly can always be ascribed to the federal system. And who doesn't seem to be in sympathy with those who criticize that monster which the Ottawa government often appears to be in the eyes of most Canadians, not only Quebeckers. I wish to underline the point that it is far more easy to attack the federal system than it is to come to its defence. If you want to attack the system, you just choose your targets, however limited and partial they may be. If you want to defend the system, you have to embrace it as a whole. You have to assume all the shortcomings of the past and show that the blessings and the benefits were far greater. This requires a lot more work and is much more difficult to put across to your listeners.

Second, our opponents appeal to one of the most powerful and natural instincts. In the members of every self-respecting national community there is the desire to be responsible for their own affairs, the wish to shape their own future in accordance with their deepest preferences.

Our position here is much more rational: it appeals much more to reason and logic than to sentiment. It has to be presented with a lot more care and precision.

Those are the two factors which we must consider, and to which all of us should be attentive in the battle that is being prepared at the moment. If we want to defeat the Parti Quebecois thesis, we must successfully challenge them on at least four main counts.

First, we must offer to our people in Quebec a party which is really representative of all segments of the population, and whose methods and functioning are absolutely beyond reproach from a democratic point of view. We must offer our fellow citizens a party which likes to deal with ideas, a party which has an articulate view of society and which does not merely present empty slogans which are not likely to be followed by precise action. This is the kind of challenge which the P.Q. has created for us. I think that indirectly it will perhaps be remembered in history as a blessing in disguise.

We must be able to demonstrate that the political, economic and cultural advantages of Confederation are superior to the quite legitimate attractions of sovereignty. Some opponents of separatism are still inclined to resort to the old scare tactics which used to be successful in the good old days. We must rather emphasize positive arguments, in order to win the minds of our fellow Quebeckers on a lasting basis.

I need not enumerate before this audience the numerous positive arguments that we will inject into the debate. I wish to assure you that they are being prepared at the moment with great care. I should like to underline here the grave responsibility which falls upon the federal government to come up with sound, reliable and complete data regarding the past and present functioning of our federal system. They are in possession of those data and I hope they will make them available in the most honest and complete form. They have begun doing just that, but we are counting a lot on the kind of substantive documentation which they will put at our disposal. I deplore that in the past, too much of this information has remained secret, especially as regards economic exchanges between the different parts of Canada. We have only begun to see some data in this extremely vital area. This is not of concern only to Quebec, but to all of us, especially those Canadians who live in the less prosperous and developed regions.

We must have the honesty to recognize that all has not been perfect in the Canadian experiment until now, and that important redressments must be envisioned. Of the shortcomings that we must recognize I will list only three examples.

It is great to speak today about the future of a country which belongs equally to all Canadians. But to all practical purposes, past policies, especially in the provinces, have too often tended either to the assimilation of French Canadians into the anglophone mainstream, or to the confinement of French Canadians to the Province of Quebec. The new Quebec-centred nationalism which has emerged in the present generation is largely a by-product of the rejection which French Canadians and their culture had suffered for too long at the hands of the rest of the country in the other provinces of Canada.

For many years, French-speaking Canadians have also been denied their fair share of participation in the economic decision-making processes, in both the public and the private sectors of the economy. The relative poverty which has resulted therefrom is largely to be attributed to errors and deficiencies which we will have to correct in the future.

Thirdly, the Province of Quebec has too often had the impression--that it was relegated, for all practical purposes, to the rank of a mere province like the others. This simplistic attitude has never been really accepted in Quebec. It is less accepted today than at any other time, and we will have to learn to deal with that special factor in the negotiations which must lead to more stable constitutional arrangements.

Finally, we (I am speaking of those who want to defend the federalist cause in Quebec) must present to the people of Quebec in time for the referendum a constitutional platform which will have to be substantial enough to meet the widespread desire for change which one senses everywhere in the province, and which must at the same time be compatible with the federal principle and acceptable to our fellow Canadians in the other provinces.

Some people would like us to refrain from putting forward too specific proposals in this area. A lot of people think that it is not the job of an opposition party to come up with precise proposals, but that it should let the government defeat itself and then assume power having accepted as few commitments as possible. I don't think that attitude is defendable in the context in which we will have to defend the federal thesis in Quebec. The desire for change is so widespread and has been confirmed by so many opinion polls, that we will have to face up to that particular difficulty in the referendum campaign.

As I have indicated, we have a commission working on that problem in our party. It is presided over by the distinguished Quebec City lawyer, Mr. Renaud Langlois. It comprises very prominent members from different shades of thought. They have begun to tackle their mandate in a very constructive spirit. I have the assurance that they will come up in plenty of time for the referendum with a set of proposals that should be a major factor in helping us arrive at renewed arrangements which will be acceptable to all of us.

Needless to say, we are resolved to act in this matter in a spirit of close consultation with political leaders and parties in the other provinces, and even, eventually, in the federal area. We are refraining to the greatest possible extent from any kind of partisan activity outside of the province. We want to deal with all provincial parties in a spirit of friendship and solidarity. I am glad to mention the presence here today of one of my closest colleagues, Mr. Claude Forget, former Minister of Social Affairs in the previous government of Quebec, who at my request has agreed to undertake an information mission to all other provinces in Canada in order to enquire about the progress of their own work in the constitutional area, to apprise them of our own progress and difficulties, to try to prepare an atmosphere which will help us come together for formal or informal discussions when we are a little more advanced.

Our platform will be federalist. We are deeply committed to the goal of a modernized federal system of government for Canada. When I say that, I do insist that we want a system of government which would provide for two levels of government intervention: the federal parliament elected in a democratic manner by the sovereign people, and provincial or state legislatures equally entrusted with real powers and elected on a democratic basis by the sovereign people. But whilst we maintain this first element of our platform and build upon it, we will go as far as is reasonably possible towards meeting the new aspirations which have developed in Quebec in the last twenty years, and which have also blossomed in other parts of the country in the last ten years.

We must in particular devise arrangements which will guarantee, among others, the following things. First, that the essential elements of the economic union which we have had since Confederation are not only preserved but reinforced. Secondly, that our economic union is placed under the authority of a democratically elected parliament responsible to the sovereign people and equipped with sufficient powers to act and speak at home and abroad on behalf of all the people of this country. Thirdly, that some basic inalienable rights of our citizens are enshrined in the renewed constitution of tomorrow, and thus placed above the whim of any particular legislature or government of the day, Fourthly, that the provinces are assured of a more effective responsible participation in federal policy and decision-making processes in the future. Fifthly, that Quebec is more clearly recognized as the mainstay of French culture in the country, and is fully protected against any centralizing legislation or judicial interpretation which might place unacceptable curbs upon its free development in line with its original culture. Sixthly, that the two languages spoken in this country are to be equal in some well-defined areas, and where such equality is vital that this be guaranteed in all parts of the country.

I think if we can explicitly agree on such fundamental postulates of a constitutional revision, we could then tackle in a constructive spirit the concrete modalities which should follow.

We are resolved, on our side, to fight a very vigorous battle in Quebec for the true freedoms which we believe can be better guaranteed under a federal system of government. But by its very nature our action cannot succeed if we are left alone to fight.

In the months which followed the election of November 15, 1976, 1 noticed that the biggest leaders and spokesmen had become much more attentive to every utterance, to every decision, to every move made in the rest of Canada. They have become attentive to developments in the rest of Canada for two understandable reasons. They want to accumulate fresh evidence showing that the present system cannot work. Whatever negative reaction that is elicited anywhere in the country will be used to serve their political interests. And they are now looking for friends and sympathizers to whom they can turn. They are trying to sell their constitutional package to the people of Quebec and then to the people of the rest of Canada.

You will, of course, make your own decisions in Ontario, but I should like to mention five different areas which are going to be crucial in the months ahead. Individual citizens, and that includes all of us, will be called upon to make all kinds of personal decisions likely to affect opinion in Quebec directly or indirectly. Some will have to decide whether they are going to stay in Quebec or to leave Quebec, whether to settle in Quebec or invest in Quebec. Some will have to decide about where to travel on their next holiday. Some will have to decide about whether their kids will be given a chance to learn another language. All of us will be called upon to vote in the federal election in the next few months. Thousands of decisions, individual decisions of a private nature, will have to be made which will have an invisible but nonetheless real bearing on the development of public opinion in Quebec and in the rest of the country. I submit that those decisions made by each and every one of us will not be indifferent to the ultimate result of the battle in Quebec.

Companies and corporations will continue in the months ahead to make decisions regarding different aspects of their operations, including investment decisions and decisions regarding location of staff in this or that part of the country. Their moves are being followed with great attention. Every decision which is made without regard to the due interest of Quebec, without serious economic justification, will be an indirect vote for separation and will inevitably strengthen the case for separatism. We have seen several examples in the last two years of situations which were handled very poorly and of decisions which were hard to justify from a purely economic point of view. I stress that these factors are going to be invoked constantly in the debate which we will have to wage in the months ahead.

The media, of course, have great responsibility on both sides of the language barrier. I am not suggesting by any means that expression of foolish opinions or interpretations of events should be suppressed in the media. I think it is far healthier if all opinions are given a free chance to reach the general public. But I do hope that there will be enough responsible citizens,

editors and journalists to bring a firm reply to each falsehood, to each abusive opinion which will be expressed. I was surprised to find out that our separatist friends in Montreal pay a lot more attention than I do to the readers' letters columns in our papers and in your papers. Some of them are making scientific studies in order to get master's degrees on such foolish subjects!

In the months ahead it is incumbent upon each one of us to see to it that in his sphere of influence no false utterance, no abusive interpretation, no unjust accusation is left unanswered. We have begun doing that in Quebec. I hope it will be done in all parts of the country.

In passing, I would like to comment on the constructive work that is being done on the whole by the two leading daily newspapers of this city in the province of Quebec. The Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star have representatives in Quebec who follow the Quebec scene with great competence. I think the reporting you have is, in general, quite fair. I hope this could apply to the whole of the country, but with regard to those two papers I am glad to underline that they have covered events in Quebec not always according to my own expectations (because when you are a politician, you never get enough praise from the press), but basically they have been doing a competent job.

We are counting a great deal on provincial political leaders in other parts of Canada. I underlined this before, and I am returning to this theme because it is one of the most important today. When I go to my people in Quebec with some proposals regarding arrangements which might be acceptable to them, they will immediately ask me, "Have you tested these proposals with other leaders in the rest of the country?" So often in the past, Quebec governments have come up with proposals which remained unanswered and ended up in the archives where they are still dormant. Our people will ask, "Do you have reasonably well-founded expectations that there is a chance that your proposals will be accepted?"

We are trying to work out proposals in conversation with other leaders because we do not want to act alone. There is nothing easier than to draft a new constitution in the isolation of your study. But to work out proposals that will have a fair chance of acceptance in the rest of the country is an extremely difficult challenge. We will have to do something in this area, and I count on provincial leaders in all parties to help us in this direction. My feeling at the moment is that there is a danger that leaders in other provinces might relapse into some kind of complacency in the expectation that everything will finally turn out all right in the province of Quebec. We do not know. The challenge is a very difficult and explosive one and if no creative work is accomplished in the rest of the country, if we are received with indifference, if there is not the same application towards finding original solutions as we are trying to deploy in Quebec, I think the results could be extremely disappointing.

As for the federal government, I recognize that they are in a very difficult position at the moment. To be very frank, my impression on this is that little can be accomplished before the next federal election. We will have a constitutional conference early in November, but I don't expect the provincial governments to be too inclined to move forward rapidly in view of the forthcoming election. I do not think the federal government will have the strength needed to press its proposals forcefully when it will be going through an election next spring or summer. I would expect that they will show as much flexibility and suppleness in this period of transition as is possible.

I think the true moment for constitutional change will come after we have had the referendum in Quebec. Regardless of the outcome of that referendum, I think we will be in for very serious conversations. If we win the referendum, as I expect we will, I think we will want to have serious and decisive conversations with our friends, which will be followed in this respect with great attention by our opponents. They will not be dead after the referendum. Should they win it, of course, the negotiations will have to take place along more radical lines.

This is my view of the situation as it seems likely to develop in the months ahead. I wish to assure you that we will work very hard. I made the decision to enter politics because I was resolved to bring the contribution that was expected of me in this area. I will remain on the firing line as long as my services are wanted. Not longer, I hope!

I think we are in for a very interesting game. I'm not too much afraid of the polarization which is occurring in Quebec. It is explosive in a sense, but I think it is a law of life that sooner or later collectivities, just like individuals, must arrive at a stage where they have difficult decisions to make. We are approaching the stage where this must happen in the life of this country, in the life of our people in Quebec in particular, but the implications for the rest of us will be so great that we are all involved.

If we can accept the challenge in a positive sense, in the sense that it forces us to produce the very best of what we have in ourselves in terms of generosity, the capacity to understand, the capacity to give, the capacity to accept, perhaps this will have been the greatest opportunity for growth ever given to Canada ever since the Fathers launched Confederation. We are perhaps on the threshold of a new Confederation which could be still more dynamic, more productive than the Confederation we have known in the first century of our history.

Should the other solution be imposed on us, I think to the extent that we will have worked seriously in the period between now and the Quebec referendum, to the same extent we will have prepared ourselves and our fellow citizens to accept the democratic verdict of the people in a constructive spirit. Life is given to us, not in order that we should win all the battles in which we are engaged, but in order that we should fight them with dignity, with all the strength of which we are capable, with all the truthfulness which we can deploy. The rest is in the hands of the people and of God.

The appreciation of the audience was expressed by John Fisher, O.C., LL.B., LL.D., D.S.S., D.Litt., D.U. (MONT.), Honorary Assistant Treasurer of The Empire Club of Canada.

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Quebec Update

The speaker addresses the Club in his new role as leader of the Liberal Party in the Province of Quebec. Remarks on the nature of the challenge to be faced in Quebec and comments on what is expected from fellow Canadians in what the speaker terms the "battle which lies ahead." Two factors which contribute to the attraction of the Parti Québécois. Four ways to challenge the Parti Québécois, with discussion. The federalist platform and how that will work. Strategies that will ensure six basic premises. Five crucial areas to cover in the months ahead. The significance of the media. Hoped-for assistance from provincial political leaders in the rest of Canada. Constitutional change and timing. The possibility of a new Confederation.