Quebec's Decision
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 11 Oct 1995, p. 155-166
Charest, The Hon. Jean, Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
A joint meeting of The Empire Club of Canada and The Canadian Club of Toronto.
The decision October 30 that will affect all Canadians. The speaker's travels throughout the province of Quebec over the last month and what he discovered. Sharing some thoughts on how this campaign is unfolding. A look back one year ago to the provincial election campaign in Quebec. What the present campaign is NOT about. The issue is separation. Alternative to separation: Canada. Agreement among the federalist forces of all parties. A review and discussion of the referendum campaign from the speaker's viewpoint, addressing specific issues such as currency, NAFTA, the Canadian economic market, the question of country. The opportunities that could come with a "no" vote.
Date of Original
11 Oct 1995
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Full Text
The Hon. Jean Charest Leader, PC Party of Canada
Chairman: David Edmison, President, The Empire Club of Canada

Head Table Guests

Douglas Todgham, Vice-President, The Canadian Institute for Advanced Research and a Director, The Empire Club of Canada; Joseph Zebrowski, researcher and doctoral candidate in political science, University of Toronto; Tom Shaw, President, Canada Proud Corporation; Elyse Allan, CEO, Board of Trade, Metropolitan Toronto; Peter W. Hogg, Professor of Law, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University; Michele Dionne, fine arts student, mother and wife of our guest speaker; John Honderich, Publisher, The Toronto Star; The Hon. Dianne Cunningham, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs; Marsha Bronfman, Director, The Canadian Club of Toronto; Dr. Reginald Stackhouse, Principal Emeritus, Wycliffe College, Professor, Toronto School of Theology and a Past President, The Empire Club of Canada; David Cameron, Professor of Political Science, University of Toronto; Heather Reisman, President, Now Foods and Liberal Policy Advisor, John Cleghorn, Chairman and CEO, Royal Bank of Canada; and Libby Burnham, Q.C., Counsel, Borden & Elliot and President, The Canadian Club of Canada.

Introduction by David Edmison

I would like to ask all of you over the age of 30 to think back for a moment to when you were 26 years of age. 1 realise that, for some of us, this requires a bit more "thinking" than for others. What were you like at age 26? Did you have a plan? Did you have direction? Was your career path punctuated with an exclamation mark or a question mark? Did you really know what you wanted out of life and what you were prepared to give to it? Many of us struggled with those all-consuming questions until much later in life. And to be sure, some of us continue on that journey today.

Let me tell you what our special guest was doing at age 26. By his twenty-sixth year, Jean Charest had graduated from the University of Sherbrooke, had been called to the Quebec Bar and had won a federal seat in the House of Commons. Very shortly after that, he earned the post of Assistant Deputy Speaker. And within just two years, his talents were recognised again as he became our Minister of State for Youth. This was a fitting portfolio indeed, as his appointment made him the youngest federal cabinet minister in Canadian history.

So, ladies and gentleman, if, in his mid-twenties, Jean Charest was unsure of his career goals and didn't quite know what exactly he wanted to do with his life, he did a heck of a job concealing it!

By mid-1988, just two years after his cabinet appointment, this rising political star had earned the Fitness and Amateur Sport portfolios as well. Soon after his re-election in 1988, the Deputy Leadership of the Government in the House of Commons was added to Mr. Charest's responsibilities. From there, things didn't slow down.

1990--appointed Chairman of the Special House of Commons Committee to study a proposed companion resolution to the Meech Lake Constitutional Accord.

1991--appointed Environment Minister and sat on the Cabinet Committee on Priorities and Planning and a new Committee on Canadian Unity and Constitutional Negotiations.

1993--fell just short of winning the leadership of the federal Progressive Conservative Party, after a highly effective campaign, appointed Deputy Prime Minister of Canada, Minister of Industry and Science and Minister responsible for the Federal Office of Regional Development.

The list goes on and on.

In the face of the PC Party's devastating defeat in October 1993, Jean Charest was returned, against all odds, for a third consecutive term. In December of that year his appointment to the leadership of the PC Party was confirmed and then reaffirmed just six months later with an overwhelming 96-per-cent vote.

As a francophone MP with a passion for a Canada that includes Quebec, Mr. Charest is one of the key architects of the "no" side strategy in the upcoming referendum. At a time when he must rebuild his party, he's also working hard to ensure that, after October 30, we won't have to rebuild our country. He is uniquely qualified to participate in the sovereignty debate and regardless of what side of the issue you favour, there's no debate over the historic role he's playing in this epic chapter in our nation's history.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome a man who, at 26 was a relatively unknown MP from Sherbrooke, but at 36 has been described as "an attractive national figure with an unlimited future," the Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, Mr. Jean Charest.

Jean Charest

Thank you ladies and gentlemen.

I can't help but notice that this is a head table that is fitting for our times. On my right, if I understood correctly, I have Heather Reisman, who's a Liberal Party advisor and on my left appropriately seated would be John Honderich of The Toronto Star. Thank God I have next to me Dianne Cunningham who will help me hold on to my common sense as I speak today.

Ladies and gentlemen, it was exactly a year ago to the day that I spoke to a joint meeting of The Empire Club and The Canadian Club and I look forward to next year's meeting. But I couldn't help but think that it was also 15 years ago that I spent a whole summer in the province of Ontario during the referendum campaign. Fifteen years ago I spent that whole referendum campaign working on a ship in the Merchant Marine doing a run between The Sault and Windsor, Ontario. And so that you know the whole story, I worked on that ship so that I could earn enough money to come back a total of three days and get married. And here I am 15 years later for a whole day in Ontario with another referendum campaign, very proud to report that since then the country has remained united and so has my marriage.

In the last month I've travelled to every corner of the province of Quebec and everywhere I have been I've reminded people that the decision they will be making on October 30 isn't only a decision about the future of the citizens of the province of Quebec. It's obviously a decision that will affect all Canadians. In this respect, I also understand the frustrations of people who reside outside the province and who feel powerless watching this debate unfold. Time and time again people have come to us asking how they can help and how they can make a contribution to helping their fellow citizens make the right decision. And for that reason alone it is certainly well worth our time today to share some thoughts on how this campaign is unfolding.

Today I want to be as direct as I can in my comments. It's important that we appreciate the meaning of this campaign so that we are also able to deal effectively with the aftermath of this referendum campaign-a referendum campaign which by definition is going to be divisive and will call on each and everyone of us to reach out to other Canadians as we move forward. It is also critically important to understand what the issue is in this referendum campaign. On the federalist side we have day in and day out reminded the people of Quebec what exactly they are called upon to decide on October 30 and the issue is clear-it is separation and its consequences.

And to understand that, it's important to take you back a year ago, when there was a provincial election campaign in Quebec and Mr. Parizeau and Mr. Bouchard ran and they asked the people in Quebec for a mandate. They're the ones who asked for this mandate. They asked for the mandate to go out there and present this project of separation and to explain it to the people of Quebec. Well, that is the key element in this referendum campaign; for that reason they now have the onus to explain to the people of Quebec what their project is and what the consequences are. And for that reason it is important that on the federalist side we keep that onus where it should be, where democratically it should be.

Let me also speak on what this campaign is not about. This campaign is not about previous constitutional changes. The referendum campaign is not about the Meech Lake Accord. The referendum campaign is not about the Charlottetown Accord. The referendum campaign is not about some competing vision of Canada. The referendum campaign is not about Jean Chrétien, Daniel Johnson or Jean Charest. To paraphrase another famous campaign, the issue is separation.

Then you would ask, "Well what is the alternative then?" For those who will be going to the polls on October 30 and making that choice, what alternative do we offer? Well the alternative is quite simple and it boils down to one word. The alternative is Canada. It's 128 years of collective experience under this political system. It's 155 years of a political union between the provinces of Ontario and Quebec. It's almost 400 years of experience in North America together, building what is today the greatest country in the world. The alternative is our heritage and what I received from my parents and ancestors. The alternative is also about the legacy I will leave to my children and that we will leave to our descendants. And this is a key factor again in this campaign. It can't be otherwise. Any other approach, ladies and gentlemen, would relieve the separatists from this onus that they chose for themselves, that they imposed upon themselves to explain what separation is. And that's why it is key in this campaign that we stick to the real issue.

I'm happy to report that that is certainly the consensus within the federalist forces. And from what I understand that's what Mike Harcourt agrees to and Roy Romanow and Ralph Klein and Gary Filmon, Mike Harris, Frank McKenna, John Savage, Clyde Wells, Audrey McLaughlin and Jean Chretien. We all agree on this key matter. And I should add this happens to be a disappointment for the separatists in the campaign. In fact they were hoping and praying that there would be some sort of a division in the federalist camp that they could exploit. Well they can hope in vain because no later than last Friday Daniel Johnson, Jean Chretien and Jean Charest stood together on the same stage in Shawinigan. We stood together because we are fighting a common cause-a cause that, may I add, is way beyond partisanship, a cause that, to be quite honest with you, has also enlightened a lot of people about politics. A lot of Canadians have said to me how encouraged they are to find that from time to time, in the history of a country and in the history of the province of Quebec, there are moments when we are able to rise beyond partisan politics, that there are causes that transcend individuals and that we're able to work together. Well if the cause is Canada, I certainly am able to stand on the same stage as the prime minister to fight for the future of my country.

Now let's not get carried away here. This goes until October 30. On October 31 I will be more than happy to put on my partisan hat and I know there actually may be a few Progressive Conservatives in this room, some of them even in a deep state of denial, so let me reassure each and every one of you that as of October 31 we will be back.

Not surprisingly, I'm sad to say the only leader of a political party who's not supporting the "no" coalition is Preston Manning. And now I know what Lucien Bouchard meant when he said a while ago: "The Bloc and the Reform are objective allies." They have something else in common. For both of them their ideas of our country seem to end at the Ottawa River. And for Preston Manning the future of Canada itself in this campaign has just become another hot-button issue to push. Well he will, I guess, eventually account for that.

But back to our campaign. What is surprising about this campaign is that Mr. Bouchard and Mr. Parizeau have already played the language and culture card in the referendum-telling Quebeckers that if they vote "no" their language and culture in some way, shape or form will be threatened. Anyone worried about a "no" vote weakening the province of Quebec should look at the extraordinary growth that we experienced in the last 15 years. The population of Quebec has grown 15 per cent from six to seven million people and the French language and culture are more secure now than at any previous time in the history of Canada. A whole new entrepreneurial class has risen in the last 15 years and I'm not the one who says this by the way. All I'm quoting and re-reading these days is Mr. Parizeau's speech-one he delivered at the Montreal Chamber of Commerce in November of 1994, where he describes in very poetic language the great progress that the province of Quebec has made in the last 15 years. And he names all the companies and the entrepreneurs. It's important to remind ourselves of this great leap and progress of this new generation of men and women who came forth because that happened exactly 15 years ago, after the last referendum-when people in Quebec were told by the separatists that if you vote "no" you will weaken the province of Quebec, that this will put us in the position where we won't be able to take our rightful place. Well a whole generation of Quebeckers have proved exactly the contrary. Mr. Parizeau and Mr. Bouchard tell Quebeckers that if they vote "no" they will weaken themselves. Well, ladies and gentlemen, the only people who will be weakened after this referendum are those who made the decision to hold this referendum. The only ones who will be weakened by the decision by Quebeckers to stay within Canada are the separatists themselves, starting with Mr. Parizeau and Mr. Bouchard.

The separatist leaders tell Quebeckers they'll lose their bargaining power if they stay within Canada. But you have to stop to think what bargaining power will they have if they choose to separate and then try to rejoin NAFTA or try to re-write the FTA? To try to attract some support the separatists have offered Quebeckers what they call a new partnership with Canada-a partnership where they would have a quarter of the population but half of the power. There's only one problem with this. The separatists are the only ones at the table. I don't see anyone rushing to sign on the dotted line and I don't know why anyone could actually come forward and sign a bad deal. But the separatist leaders, in what is an unusual twist in this campaign, are now arguing that if we separate, Quebec will be able to keep the Canadian dollar. We'll be able to keep the Canadian passport or Canadian citizenship. We'll remain part of NAFTA. We'll continue to have access to the Canadian market. In fact if you were from another country and came to Canada and observed this campaign you would probably be mystified. You would probably come to the conclusion that here are two political forces making the same argument-that if you separate from Canada you get to keep Canada. It is as though it's a card game but there's only one Canada card. One of them is holding the card, the other one is bluffing. And in this case we certainly know who's bluffing.

Let me give you one example-currency. The argument made by the separatists is that if we separate, that won't be a problem because we can keep the Canadian currency. A lot of experts seem to think that's possible. It could be done. The difficulty I have with that is here we are Canadians, partners in Canada, and we would move from being partners within this country to becoming a colony with another country controlling our monetary policy. I don't get a sense that we have gained a lot in terms of sovereignty or independence on such a fundamental issue. When I raise that I'm told: "Charest you don't understand. We have a partnership proposal. It's going to work like this. There's going to be a joint commission. Actually we're going to have more government because we like government and the joint commission will work under the rules of unanimity-a great, great way of getting things done as our previous government learned over the last nine years. And so the consequence of this is that we will have a veto power over the monetary policy." Let me get this right. We're separating, we'll have control and then we'll have the control of the monetary policy of the other country. I said to myself: "Why didn't we think of this when we negotiated the free trade agreement?" We'd be sitting in Ottawa in charge of the American Federal Reserve Bank. Jean Cleghorn could be the president.

And it goes on and on. The Canadian economic market would also be re-negotiated. It's funny-I thought we had that market, but I guess we don't. When you think of the jobs that are at stake, it's a market that's worth $100 billion of trade within Canada-one job in five in the province of Quebec. Mr. Johnson yesterday shared a study of how many jobs could be lost according to different studies done, not by us, but by independent groups and found that 90,000 jobs were at stake if we separate. In fact the Canadian economic union is much more integrated than any relationship that we'll ever find under a trade agreement. As Royal Bank of Canada Chief Economist, John McCallum has written, the trade-generating powers of the Canadian economic union are of the order of magnitude greater than the trade-generating powers of both NAFTA and the European Union. So the separatist leaders go on. They say: "That's fine. We'll actually have access to NAFTA and for the longest time they kept saying that it would be automatic. We'll split and we'll have access to NAFTA." Recently though they've stopped saying that, because the American ambassador to Canada has said often enough that if Quebec separates there is no automatic admission to NAFTA and the American trade ambassador said the same. The ambassador to Canada from Mexico has also stated that. The hard reality is that Quebec would have to line up behind -Chile and negotiate from zero and negotiate with a partner, as we have learned from experience, that isn't in the mood of doing any great favours to anyone else, no matter how nice they are or whether they are neighbours or not, because for the American government every trade deal is a precedent, every trade deal carries consequences. So there will be no automatic admission to NAFTA. This project is what Mr. Parizeau and Mr. Bouchard are now trying to sell.

But this debate doesn't turn only on economic issues. There's fundamentally the question of country-the country that Quebeckers and Ontarians and Canadians everywhere have built together. And Quebeckers are profoundly attached to their home, the province of Quebec and to their country, Canada. I keep reminding people everywhere I go that when they have been asked consistently over the last 30 years whether or not Quebeckers want to stay within Canada and remain Canadians, 80 per cent plus, year in and year out, have always answered "yes." So on the one side of this debate we have Quebec offered by the separatists and on the other side of the debate it is Quebec plus Canada. We have 19 days to go out there and argue and make her case and most of all we have 19 days to ask Mr. Parizeau and Mr. Bouchard to tell us exactly what they are going to propose and whom they propose to negotiate with. And based on what information, based on what probabilities of success can they actually guarantee to the people of Quebec that they will be able to separate and keep all the advantages of Canada? And on the twentieth day you and I will be left with the responsibility, with the duty to go out there and reach out to Canadians in the province of Quebec who may not have agreed with our position. This will be a very, very important task-one that I take very seriously.

In this regard all leaders in Canada must live up to this very important responsibility of reaching out to others. May I add also that in this debate we're told from time to time that if we vote "no" the consequence will be the status quo. Mr. Bouchard and Mr. Parizeau make that argument: that nothing will change. But as I look to the future and to the responsibility before us, it's important for us to stress how important the changes that the government of Mr. Harris is proposing are and how significant they are going to be for the people of Quebec. What I see on the horizon after a "no" vote is a period of convergence-a period of convergence where the changes that have been asked for in the province of Quebec by successive governments are also compatible with changes that other Canadians are looking for in Alberta, Ontario and the Atlantic. We have a unique opportunity. We will have a unique opportunity as we rebuild our confidence; a unique opportunity to undertake some changes starting from the ground up, an opportunity to focus on some of the key changes that affect our day-today lives-the economy, jobs and an opportunity to re-balance some responsibilities within our federation.

My hope is that Canadians everywhere will seize this opportunity and will be inspired by this dynamic, which by the way has the same backdrop for everyone. It happens to be the fiscal denominator that is forcing a lot of these changes upon us. If you need any evidence of that look at the four election campaigns that unfolded in 1995-Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick. They all have a common denominator-governments of different stripes and colours elected with just about the same mandate-to not increase taxes, to balance their books, to revise programmes and to get back to basics. One government is a New Democratic government in Saskatchewan. Another one is Liberal in New Brunswick and thank God, two Tory governments. So our opportunity following a "no" vote is to re-engineer our federalism and to put the focus on changes that we can make, that we can accomplish without going through the constitutional door. Does that mean that we will never make constitutional changes? No. Does it mean that those who have aspirations, who want to change things, must diminish those aspirations? The answer is "no." It just means that we should focus on the things we can change now and that touch our day-today lives-jobs, the economy and taxation. Having accomplished those changes, we can build on those accomplishments and move on to other things. That's the window of opportunity that will be there for us on October 31. And if Canadians today understand that and are able to find some inspiration in this vote, if they are able to find some confidence in the future of their country, well then this referendum will have served a good cause and my work and the work of our party and your presence here today will have meant something. It will have meant something for Canada and it will have meant something for your children and grandchildren. That's why I'm fighting this referendum and that's why I am here today so that we can enlist you in this cause. And to help you vote Progressive Conservative in the next election.

But the cause is way beyond any political party and so I want to close today by saying to you what I've said to Quebeckers everywhere. On October 30, as I go into the voting booth and make my "X" on that ballot, I am not going to hand over my passport to Jacques Parizeau or Lucien Bouchard. I intend to hold on to this passport of mine. I happen to believe it's a strong symbol of everything we've been able to accomplish together and I will actually go into that voting booth with that passport in my pocket. I intend to walk out of that voting booth with my Canadian passport in my pocket so that other Canadians can also proudly stand where we stand today in a united Canada.

Thank you.

The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Libby Burnham, Libby Burnham, Q.C., Counsel, Borden & Elliot and President, The Canadian Club of Canada.

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Quebec's Decision

A joint meeting of The Empire Club of Canada and The Canadian Club of Toronto.
The decision October 30 that will affect all Canadians. The speaker's travels throughout the province of Quebec over the last month and what he discovered. Sharing some thoughts on how this campaign is unfolding. A look back one year ago to the provincial election campaign in Quebec. What the present campaign is NOT about. The issue is separation. Alternative to separation: Canada. Agreement among the federalist forces of all parties. A review and discussion of the referendum campaign from the speaker's viewpoint, addressing specific issues such as currency, NAFTA, the Canadian economic market, the question of country. The opportunities that could come with a "no" vote.