The Present Evolution of Quebec, Its Meaning and Its Scope
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The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 16 Nov 1964, p. 85-97
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Lesage, The Honourable Jean, Speaker
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Text
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Speeches
Description
A joint meeting of The Empire Club of Canada and The Canadian Club of Toronto.
What the people of Quebec are thinking. The transition from the quiet revolution to what the speaker calls "the noisier evolution" that is taking place in Quebec today. Two problems facing Canada today: biracialism and Canadian federalism. The high stakes for Quebec. The speaker's government seeking to promote the welfare and development of the people of Quebec. The need for Quebec to have the means of assuring not only the cultural but also the economic progress of its citizens. The pace of development in Quebec. A description and review of Quebec. Quebec's concern for French-speaking people in all of Canada. The fundamental question: "How, in the Canada of tomorrow, can we all succeed in giving to French speaking Canada … the place which belongs to it, and how can it play the role which it should have as one of the original partners in this rather daring but enthusiasm provoking venture, the founding of Canada?" The many answers to this question. Quebec's place to fill. What it might be. The need for the rest of Canada to help Quebec to attain its objectives, and why the rest of Canada should do so. Quebec's effort to assert itself as a distinct entity. The speaker's opinion based upon his experience gained while he has been Prime Minister of Quebec, and speaking for the majority of the citizens of Quebec. Hoping to dispel the misunderstandings.
Date of Original
16 Nov 1964
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English
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Full Text
NOVEMBER 16, 1964
The Present Evolution of Quebec, Its Meaning and Its Scope
AN ADDRESS BY The Honourable Jean Lesage, P.C., LL.D., D.C.L., PRIME MINISTER OF QUEBEC
JOINT MEETING OF THE CANADIAN CLUB OF TORONTO AND THE EMPIRE CLUB OF CANADA
CHAIRMAN, The Hon. Donald M. Fleming, PRESIDENT, THE CANADIAN CLUB OF TORONTO

MR. FLEMING:

Judged by any standard the Canadian Confederation of 1867 ranks as a massive achievement and, we doubt not, a lasting one. To bring together separate colonies of diverse origins and to weld them, and later others, into a nation spanning the north half of this continent from sea to sea was a crowning triumph of statesmanship, vision and goodwill.

Equally it was a supreme achievement to hold the young country together in the critical decades which followed 1867. It is not always remembered, for example, that Nova Scotia openly sought to leave the Confederation, that in 1886 W. S. Fielding swept that Province and won every seat on a policy of taking Nova Scotia out of Confederation, that the election was followed by a unanimous vote of the Legislature and strenuous efforts by the Government of the Province in London to achieve this declared purpose.

The enlargement and safeguarding of the territory of the young nation, the strains of growth, the perils of wars, might well have daunted a less courageous and determined people than Canadians; yet, notwithstanding all her trials, Canada has moved steadily forward, past milestone after milestonethe status of an independent nation, leader in the evolution of the Commonwealth, a principal figure in world councils, and all the while matching her political strides with a massive economic growth. Truly, the Fathers of Confederation "builded better than they knew."

No country drawn from such diverse antecedents could be knit together on the basis of uniformity and repression. Confederation was achieved and maintained because it recognized and observed the right to diversity in language, law, religion, and culture. These differences exist, not as a privilege, but of unchallengable right. Speaking as a Canadian, one of whose ancestors fought at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, not as one of Wolfe's soldiers, but as one of Montcalm's, I say very simply that these differences abide and always will. They are part of the warp and woof of the very fabric of Canada.

In recent years the gaze of many Canadians has been turned inwards, attracted and ofttimes fascinated by events in the Province of Quebec. The long, forward strides which have been taken in Canada's largest province are, I believe, not viewed grudgingly in other provinces, but rather with the utmost satisfaction, approval and goodwill.

Difficulties have arisen, and it is not always easy for Canadians in other provinces to understand them clearly, or to weigh them in the scales of history. But one thing remains clear: that there is a deep longing in Canada for harmony, mutual understanding and deep friendship with our compatriots in Quebec, and there is widespread recognition that Canada will attain her high destiny only if all Canadians, whatever be the race or tongue of their ancestors, hold each other in mutual respect and regard. We must all know each other better and serve each other better.

In the unfolding history of our time the Honourable Jean Lesage is playing a principal and most influential role. He was born in Montreal in 1912 and graduated from Laval University in Arts and Law. For five years he served Quebec as Crown Attorney. In 1945, when only thirty-three years of age, he was elected to Parliament for the seat of MontmagnyL'Islet. 1945 was a vintage year in Canadian parliamentary history. A month ago we welcomed to this Club another provincial Premier, the Honourable Ross Thatcher of Saskatchewan, who entered the House of Commons in the same year. From that date I think I can claim a personal friendship with Mr. Lesage which has survived the vicissitudes of these past two decades.

From the outset Mr. Lesage was both active and articulate in the House and its Committees. He showed himself to be a man of goodwill. I shall not forget his part in the luncheon meetings of a small group of new young Members from both sides of the House, some French-speaking, some English-speaking, who endeavoured to extend our use of each other's language.

In 1950 he was Joint Chairman of the Joint Committee of both Houses on Old Age Security, one of the most fruitful Parliamentary Committees ever appointed. If I remember correctly, I nominated him for that office.

By this time he was a marked man and a national figure. In 1951 he was appointed Parliamentary Assistant to the Secretary of State for External Affairs, and in 1953 to the Minister of Finance. Later in that year he entered the Cabinet, where he served for four years as the first Minister of the newly-formed Department of Northern Affairs and National Resources.

Following his election as Leader of the Quebec Liberal Party in May, 1958, he concluded a record of thirteen years' Service in the House of Commons and election to give consecutive parliaments, resigning his seat to leave the Federal arena. Three years later he led his Party to success at the polls and became Prime Minister and Minister of Finance in the new provincial administration. In 1962 he consolidated his position with another victory at the polls. He has enjoyed a political record of unbroken success.

Mr. Lesage has chosen as his subject today "The Present Evolution of Quebec, Its Meaning and Its Scope."

MR. LESAGE:

May I, at the very outset, thank you most sincerely for the honour you have done me by your., invitation to address you today, and say how delighted I am to have this opportunity of meeting a number of old friends. Membership in clubs such as yours and your presence here today are tangible proof of your interest in Canadian affairs and, if I may so interpret it, of your interest in Canada's two founding races.

If you will permit me, I should like to take advantage of this opportunity of speaking to such a representative audi- ence to tell you something of what the people of my Province. are thinking, and also something of the transition from the quiet revolution to what I may call the noisier evolution that is taking place in Quebec today.

This is not the first time that I have spoken on this subject outside of Quebec nor is it even the first time that I have done so here in Toronto. But it seemed to me that there are good reasons for my doing so today. For the pace of evolution seems to be so quick-changes seem to be taking place so rapidly-that it is not enough for us merely to pause, take a deep breath and reassess the situation, but we must also explain these changes not only to our own people but also to their fellow citizens of the other provinces.

It is with these thoughts in mind that I would like today. to talk mainly about the more important principles-what I would call in French "les idées maitresses"-that both moti- vate and inspire the decisions of the Government of Quebec. Canada today faces two kinds of problems which, though distinct one from the other, are interwoven both in their cause and in their solution. There is first the problem of bi-racialism: what must be done so that French-speaking Canadians, both individually and collectively, will be on an equal footing with English-speaking Canadians? Then there is the problem of Canadian federalism: How can the highly centralized structure that grew up as a consequence of the great depression of the thirties and the great war be adapted to the peacetime needs of a country of such immensity as Canada with all its many diversities?

In the middle of these problems and at their meeting point-so to speak-is Quebec for which the stake is in my view greater than that of any other province because the survival of French Canadians and their future are involved. Whatever may be the kind of action that it pursues, the Government which I have the honour to lead seeks above all to promote the welfare and development of the people of Quebec. We consider this to be our paramount duty and responsibility. I suppose that the same could be said of the other governments which have preceded us, except that so far as we are concerned we are not following the same methods as our predecessors. We seek to achieve tangible and positive results, as quickly as possible, without, however, losing sight of the principles to which Quebec has always adhered.

Thus we believe that it is essential to the development and well being of our people that Quebec should have the means of assuring not only the cultural but also the economic progress of its citizens. The ethnic factor is not the only one which requires that the responsibility for this progress be entrusted to the Government of Quebec and not left to a central government. There is also the fact that Quebec is behind some other provinces, that it must make up the lost time and that in consequence it needs to have a greater control of the pace of its own development.

As Quebec is the only province of the country in which French-speaking Canadians are in the majority, it is inevitable that our action should have an influence upon the evolution of French Canada as a whole and by the same token upon that of the whole of Canada. You will not be surprised therefore that the Government of Quebec has traditionally been concerned with all Canadians whose mother tongue is French. This preoccupation of ours explains why Quebec is often spoken of as being.the political expression of French Canada. It is, of course, well understood that the federal government is the government of all Canadians, but sociologically speaking it must be recognized that the French-speaking population of Quebec feels much more closely attached to the government of its province than to that of Canada. Nor are the French Canadians of the other provinces indifferent to what is going on in Quebec, because of the affinity that a common language creates.

For Quebeckers, this is not a matter of narrow provincialism: rather it should be regarded as the obvious consequence of the relative failure of our present political system, under which the French Canadian of Quebec feels really at home only in Quebec. This is not just a conjecture upon my part; it is a reality -a fact. I should not be honest if I were to hide this from you; I should not be a realist if I were to forget it.

This is an aspect of the Canadian reality-of the present situation-of which account should be taken in the elaboration of the new kind of Confederation that French Canadians would like to see.

The fact remains that one of the groups which founded our country, the French speaking group, identifies itself principally with Quebec, though it contributed to the creat ing of Canada; but, I may add, Quebeckers-excepting a small minority-have no intention of leaving confederation. However, in order to correct in some measure the situation Quebec firmly maintains the proposition that both of the official languages be used throughout the services of the central government. It would also like the French speaking minorities in the other provinces to be treated as fairly as the English speaking minority in Quebec. In this connection, it gives me much pleasure, whenever the occasion presents itself, to pay tribute to the noteworthy progress that Ontario has made in this direction.

Quebeckers also think that the international image that Canada presents should at all times and in all parts of the world reflect the fact that it is made up of Canadians of both English and French origins. I have just returned from a visit to several countries of Europe and I must say that I noted a real improvement in this regard.

This having been said, a fundamental question remains: How, in the Canada of tomorrow, can we all succeed in giving to French speaking Canada-and more particularly to Quebec, which is in a way its mother-country-"sa mere patrie"-the place which belongs to it, and how can it play the role which it should have as one of the original partners in this rather daring but enthusiasm provoking venture, the founding of Canada?

There are many answers to this question.

The Canada of the future may be composed of ten provinces, as it is today, or the number may be reduced following the regrouping of some of the existing provinces; but I shall not discuss such a possibility. However, in either eventuality Quebec, as a distinct entity, will have a place to fill. What will this place be?

As Quebec will have a place to fill, I eliminate two extreme possibilities: on the one hand, that Quebec be swallowed up in a common melting pot, or, on the other hand, that Quebec be completely separated from the rest of Canada. I reject the first possibility as completely unrealistic and inadmissible; and as to the other, I would say that it would set Quebec upon a course that is opposite to the course I have just noticed in Europe and according to which different countries, at the price of how many trials and errors, attempt to unite what history has made separate. What avenues remain open to us?

I think first of a Canada where all the provinces-ten 'or less according to the future political configuration of our country-would have more autonomy than at present, each discharging fully its constitutional responsibilities. And assuming that all of the provinces did want this broadening of their administrative functions, some of them would nevertheless wish to have some increased responsibilities that they consider themselves capable of assuming. In any event it is upon this course that Quebec is set. In this context all of the provinces would not necessarily have the same administration system, and the agreements that might be made between them and the federal government would not necessarily be the same for all the provinces, but would be better adapted to their own respective needs. This would not automatically preclude united action by the provinces, but henceforth the coordination among them would be of their free choice and would be achieved by their willing and active co-operation.

Or else, because of the particular position in which a different language and culture place it, Quebec might wish to assume responsibilities in which the other provinces have no interest; such a case has already cropped up. In such circumstances, Quebec in the long run might end up with a particular status, without for all this endangering the essentials of our federal system. One ought not to assume that this would mean a preferred or privileged status under which we might obtain by negotiation powers, responsibilities or advantages that we do not now enjoy and that would be denied to the other provinces. There is no question of such a thing, though it would not be either sensible or practical to reject in principle and beforehand the possibility of particular arrange-' ments between one or more provinces and the federal government on matters which concerned that or those provinces and not the others. Such arrangements-financial in character-already exist with respect to the Atlantic Provinces. It seems to me that in every federal system, in every constitution, a sufficient degree of flexibility should be retained so that each of the constituent parts of the country ought not to be forced into a common mould, particularly when they differ one from the others.

I have mentioned the foregoing possibilities without commenting in detail upon them, first because I must say frankly that I do not know which possibility will become a fact, and also because I should like to leave it to English speaking Canadians-our partners in the founding of this country-to think about these matters over the weeks and months that lie ahead. Indeed this is what is being done by several groups in Canada who are at present at work: The Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Bi-culturalism, the ,Committee of the Quebec Legislative Assembly on the Constitution, and the Federal-Provincial Tax Structure Committee.

The problem I have attempted to outline today preoccupies us in Quebec; it should, for similar reasons, be of concern to you too. If by good luck or bad-according to one's point of view-you were or choose to remain indifferent, we of Quebec will nonetheless find a solution for we are devoting a large part of our efforts to find such a solution. Very simply may I say that I sincerely hope the fashioning of the Canada of tomorrow will be the result of the joint thinking of both English-speaking and French-speaking Canadians, not forgetting those who belong to other minorities.

To sum up, the rest of Canada must help Quebec to attain its objectives. Otherwise, if we are forced to act alone, we shall be inclined to assume attitudes-and it would be quite human to do so-which will be less and less understood and which would only succeed in pushing us into an isolation that truly we do not want. For if, as some fear, Quebec seems to be withdrawing from Canada, has the thought occurred that the rest of Canada may well hasten such a step by remaining more and more detached from the preoccupations and the aspirations of Quebec, whether it be because of indifference or of opposition?

By its present effort to assert itself as a distinct entity, economically and politically strong and self-confident, Quebec has changed a situation to which Canada as a whole had grown accustomed. Today our English-speaking compatriots must view Quebec in a different light. I admit that this involves a psychological process that is always difficult, indeed very difficult. As a matter of fact, some elements in Quebec have not even yet completely adjusted themselves to the reforms we have brought about in our own institutions. This is normal. But let us not forget that the government and the people of Quebec-much like the rest of our country-at present are facing prejudice and impatience that we all should seek to dissipate as quickly as possible. There are, among both French-speaking and English-speaking Canadians, extremists and people who simply will neither understand nor accept the reality of cold hard facts.

In assessing this reality as clearly as possible, Quebec of today is seeking, for the present and for the future, the economic, social and political conditions of an interdependence which will be conducive to its full development and which will be more worth-while than an independence which would risk being no more than an illusion. Personally, I believe that it is this course, which is both constructive and moderate; that Quebec should follow. In an interdependent society, each must accept the others. Upon our part, and I speak for all save a very small minority, we are ready to accept the problems and the difficulties of coexistence-of living and working together-because we can see the ultimate advantages that will accrue from doing so. We are ready to accept our partner-English Ckiada-as it is, and we have no intention of asking it to change its way of life or its culture. Is it prepared to do the same for us? Because we do want to be accepted as we are, having regard to Quebec's particular position in the Canadian Confederation.

I do not want to give the impression today that I am bringing what might be regarded as a "message" to English speaking Canadians, but I would like to express an opinion,based upon the experience I have gained while I have been Prime Minister of Quebec.

It seems to me that any Canadian political system which, upon the pretext that the sociological and cultural character of Quebec is only a passing phenomenon and of little impor tance, sought to fit us into a common mould against our will, and to force us to change our institutions and our way of life to conform to those of the other provinces, would from the start be doomed to failure. If we decide to bring our laws and our administrative practices into harmony with those of the other provinces, we want it to be because we have chosen freely to do so, without constraint. In a word, we want our decisions in these matters to be our own and determined by our own assessment of the facts and the needs of interdependence.

We also ask that in the Canada of the future -a Canada for which our minds are gradually being prepared by a mutual awareness of common problems and by concrete gestures which bespeak mutual understanding-yes-we ask that in the Canada of the future there be given to the French 'Canadian entity, and to Quebec, its mainstay, a dimension which alone can ensure the true equality and the mutual respect of French- and English-speaking Canadians. This, in essence, I believe to be our position on Canadian federalism.

Gentlemen, I have just tried to give you, as frankly and as honestly as I could, the opinion of the immense majority of the citizens of Quebec. I could not have done so two or three years ago. Since then, we have been thinking out and attempting to define our aspirations. They are by no means revolutionary and they will come as an unpleasant surprise only to those who have not yet grasped the true meaning of our recent evolution. I hope that they will help our Englishspeaking compatriots to understand what we mean when we speak of a new kind of Confederation.

Above all, I hope that my words will help to dispel the misunderstandings which could so easily estrange from each other the two founding races of our country, this Canada that we all want to see great and prosperous, for it is our country, yours and mine.

Thanks

Thanks of this meeting were expressed by Lt. Col. Robert H. Hilborn, President of The Empire Club.

COLONEL HILBORN:

Nous du Club Empire du Canada somme reconnaissant de cette opportunity de nous joindre avec nos confreres du Club Canadien de Toronto, afin de vous recev oir Monsieur Premier Ministre. Je vous assure Monsieur, la reception que vous avec recu indique le desir, non seulement de ceux present, mais de tout homme de bonne volonte dans cette ville, et province, de participer a tenir ouvert le dialogue qui nous unira dans en sens reel.

Mr. President, Mr. Prime Minister. We of The Empire Club of Canada are grateful for this opportunity of joining with our confreres in The Canadian Club of Toronto to receive you, Mr. Prime Minister.

I assure you, sir, that the reception you have received is indicative of the desire, not only of those present, but of all men of goodwill in this city and province to play our part in keeping open the dialogue that will unite us in a real sense--a true dialogue that will replace the "two solitudes" which have imprisoned English-speaking and French-speaking Canadians alike--and a real unity and not just tolerable co-existence.

The fact that the great majority of us outside of La Belle Province, like myself, are not bilingual must not prevent us from speaking the same language when we talk of Canadian unity.

We welcome and applaud your rational and positive approach and on behalf of the members of The Canadian Club of Toronto and The Enipire Club of Canada and our guests I thank you for being with us and presenting it so ably.

Nous acclamons et applaudissons votre approche rationnel et positif. De la part des membres du Club Canadien de Toronto et du Club Empire du Canada, et de nos invite, je vous remerci d'etre avec nous et de le presenter si clairement.

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The Present Evolution of Quebec, Its Meaning and Its Scope


A joint meeting of The Empire Club of Canada and The Canadian Club of Toronto.
What the people of Quebec are thinking. The transition from the quiet revolution to what the speaker calls "the noisier evolution" that is taking place in Quebec today. Two problems facing Canada today: biracialism and Canadian federalism. The high stakes for Quebec. The speaker's government seeking to promote the welfare and development of the people of Quebec. The need for Quebec to have the means of assuring not only the cultural but also the economic progress of its citizens. The pace of development in Quebec. A description and review of Quebec. Quebec's concern for French-speaking people in all of Canada. The fundamental question: "How, in the Canada of tomorrow, can we all succeed in giving to French speaking Canada … the place which belongs to it, and how can it play the role which it should have as one of the original partners in this rather daring but enthusiasm provoking venture, the founding of Canada?" The many answers to this question. Quebec's place to fill. What it might be. The need for the rest of Canada to help Quebec to attain its objectives, and why the rest of Canada should do so. Quebec's effort to assert itself as a distinct entity. The speaker's opinion based upon his experience gained while he has been Prime Minister of Quebec, and speaking for the majority of the citizens of Quebec. Hoping to dispel the misunderstandings.