The Association of Tomorrow
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 25 Oct 1979, p. 64-82
Johnson, The Honourable Pierre Marc, Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
An address one week prior to the publication of the Government of Quebec's white paper on sovereignty association. Months of debates to follow, culminating in December with the formal disclosure of the proposed referendum question, then a move to the National Assembly for discussion in Parliament. Then the referendum itself. What this process means to Quebec and the rest of Canada. A history, discussion and definition of the concept of sovereignty association. Plans, priorities, and the vision for Quebec. The issue of the constitution. The differences between Quebec and the rest of the Canada. The interdependence of economies. The attitude of the rest of Canada towards Quebec after the referendum.
Date of Original
25 Oct 1979
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Full Text
OCTOBER 25, 1979
The Association of Tomorrow
CHAIRMAN The President, John A. MacNaughton


Ladies and gentlemen of The Empire Club of Canada: The visit to us today by the Honourable Pierre Marc Johnson, Minister of Labour in the Government of Quebec, is in keeping with a tradition that began in 1904 during our first season. At that time the Honourable L. P. Brodeur, Member of Parliament and Laurier's Minister of the Interior, became the first speaker to come to this podium to bring a message to members of the Empire Club from the people of Quebec. Mr. Brodeur has been followed by many others including Premiers Taschereau, Godbout, Barrette, Lesage, Bertrand and Bourassa, and many of their ministers.

A recitation of some of the titles of the addresses which these men delivered, and which are recorded in our yearbooks, indicates the steady evolution of the message from Quebec during the last seventy-five years. It also underlines, in a sometimes embarrassingly blunt way, why for many in the current generation of Quebec political leaders the status quo of the Canadian confederation is unacceptable.

Here is a sample of titles of some of the addresses:

1904--The Loyalty of French-Canadians to the Empire (by Interior Minister L.P. Brodeur) 1922--One of Canada's Assets, the Habitant (by Premier Taschereau)

1940--Quebec and PanCanadian Unity (by Premier Godbout)

1960--Our Partnership (by Premier Barrette)

1964--The Present Evolution of Quebec, its Meaning and its Scope (by Premier Lesage)

1969--Quebec in the Confederation of Tomorrow (by Premier Bertrand)

1972--Inter-Provincial and Federal-Provincial Relations (by Premier Bourassa)

A reading of these speeches in chronological order highlights the developing aspirations of the people of Quebec. Each successive speaker expressed a pride in the history of Quebec and, at the same time, each stated a confidence that the French-speaking community on this continent could survive, indeed could flourish, within a Canadian federalism. With varying degrees of emphasis the succession of speakers advised of the need for certain reforms of the division of authority and for understanding of the uniqueness of the French-Canadian culture, but underlying all of the addresses was a confidence that Canadian federalism and Canadians themselves would respond in the ways and with the sympathy necessary to maintain this nation as a unified country.

The repeated expression of this confidence in the capacity for accommodation came to an abrupt end in 1977 in an exceedingly frank address to us by Parti Quebecois Finance Minister Jacques Parizeau. It was entitled "Four Months After." In his statement Mr. Parizeau served notice that fine tuning of the British North America Act would no longer be sufficient to accomplish the kind of changes sought by the people of Quebec through their newly elected government. While many members of this club were unhappy to hear Mr. Parizeau's message, you will be relieved to learn, Doctor Johnson, that, unlike the practice in ancient Greece, there were no efforts to slay the messenger. Indeed anything other than an open-minded approach and a warm reception would be inconsistent with the character of the exchanges between leaders from Quebec and members of the Empire Club as put in perspective by Premier Godbout who began his address in 1940 with the following words:

Ce n'est 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. II est resulte de cette rencontre, de cet echange d'idees qui suit 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. Il ne faut point perdre l'occasion de les renouveler.

Certainly all present would agree with Premier Godbout's sentiment that these visits from leading spokesmen from Quebec are valuable; no doubt those in the audience who are familiar with the background and accomplishments of today's guest of honour, the Honourable Pierre Marc Johnson, will also agree that it is our good fortune that an individual of his reputation and experience has agreed to be with us on the eve of the Quebec referendum on sovereignty association.

Our guest has distinguished himself academically, professionally and politically. He is a lawyer, a medical doctor and a government minister. Many people, in fact probably most, would regard any one of those achievements as the hallmark of a successful lifetime, but for Pierre Marc Johnson all three had been accomplished by the age of thirty.

Dr. Johnson is a man who has grown up surrounded by political debate. Son of a respected and trusted Premier of Quebec, the Honourable Daniel Johnson, he was raised in a household where politics was part of the daily family diet. As a student during the 1960s he came of age at the time of the awakening of Quebec, the period of the Quiet Revolution.

It is more than just a courtesy to our guest of honour to observe that in Pierre Marc Johnson is embodied a synthesis of the cross-currents of the political soul searching of our neighbours in Quebec during the last twenty years.

It is our privilege to have him with us today to present his views on "The Association of Tomorrow." Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the Honourourable Pierre Marc Johnson.


Ladies and gentlemen: In exactly one week from today, the Government of Quebec will hand down and render public its white paper on sov ereignty association. In the months to follow, an important public debate will start, adding to what has been more or less an ongoing debate since November 1976. This phase will culminate in December with the formal disclosure of the proposed referendum question. As provided for in the referendum law, the debate will then move to the National Assembly for discussion in Parliament, sometime at the end of winter. The outcome of it all will be the referendum itself, which will take place during the spring, when Quebeckers will be asked to answer "yes" or "no" to a clear question.

What will take place in Quebec in the near future, is then basically the unfolding of the democratic process in a modern society. The coming months will be extremely important, not only for Quebec, but also for Canada and for Quebeckers as well as for Canadians. We should keep in mind that, whatever the results the morning after the referendum, we will still have to live with each other.

This process, besides being democratic, is also quite legitimate: for the first time in their history, Quebeckers will be able to express an opinion on the political institutions governing them.

All residents of Quebec, provided that they are eligible under the normal electoral rules, will be able to vote on referendum day. It is legitimate that this vote should be restricted to people living in Quebec since we, as a people, have a right to self-determination, a right recognized under general principles of western civilization and embodied in international law. Three hundred years of history proves without a doubt that there might be some ambiguity attributable to the fact that not all Quebeckers necessarily consider themselves as French Canadians and that all French Canadians are not necessarily residents of Quebec, but this ambiguity does in no way deny the concept of a different people in Quebec.

Since Canadian institutions as such will be touched by the object of the referendum, Canadians are concerned--if not worried--about this coming debate. Of course Canada and Canadians in general will have something to say when the referendum is over, when a majority of Quebeckers will have said "yes" as I believe they will. For years now, Canadians have been asking "What does Quebec want?" We thought we should ask ourselves first and answer after.

I hope that the positive answer to this referendum will be a turning point and the dawn of a new relationship between the two founding people of this country, I hope the referendum debate, as well as its outcome, will permit us to set down the basis for building, not only a harmonious relationship between our two people, but also something original and satisfying for all of us, together.

What will be proposed to Quebeckers is sovereignty association.

Sovereignty association, either as an expression or as a concept, has been more or less well defined or deformed. On one end of the spectrum some see it as contradictory in itself, a scheme to manipulate the population, or as a "having your cake and eating it too" attitude of Quebeckers. On the other end, others in Quebec see it mainly as a cataplasmic renewal of federalism. That, as they see it, could include repatriation of the Canadian Constitution, coupled with special status for Quebec.

If the debate is to be fully democratic for Quebeckers, and clear for Canadians, a more explicit presentation is needed.

The notion of sovereignty association was developed eleven years ago by a group of Liberals who left Jean Lesage's party after his defeat in 1966. At that time, these men and women founded the "Mouvement souverainete-association" with Mr. Rene Levesque as its leader. Eleven years later, the basis of what has been said and written by this government, and what the white paper will be about, can be found in the "movement's" first platform. A year later, that movement transformed itself into a political party, which grew progressively through the joining of independantists from either the R.I.N. or the R.N. who softened their position on independence; or from the most nationalist wings of either the Liberals or Union Nationale. At the same time, the notion of sovereignty association was refined and perfected as it came under the public's eye, while the party became the official opposition and of course when it became the government.

Sovereignty is essentially self-government or, more precisely, it is the exclusive right to tax and make laws on a territory and to assume a full and equal relationship with others. Sovereignty means equality of rights between peoples.

Association comes from recognition of the special nature of what Canada is as an economic entity. It is also a commitment to our historical intimacy, what our peoples have shared on this land, as well as a statement of the will of Quebeckers to build something different here, together with the rest of Canada, a Canada to which we still have as a people a sense of belonging.

Association, in economic terms, means the maintaining of the daily economic life of Canada. Association is the creation of common institutions on the basis of a treaty binding the two partners, and specifying the power that the two governments agree to exercise jointly. The association would also establish the composition of these common institutions, the way in which their decisions should be adopted, and the measure in which their decisions would bind both governments.

Association also means that the institutions created to regulate areas of joint activity, and the mechanisms for the interpretation and arbitration of the agreements, should be constituted on the general principle of parity. It also means that the resources required for the proper functioning of these institutions should be provided and allocated through negotiations between the parties. It also means creating a decision-making body composed of ministers delegated by each government and acting within a mandate from their government.

If we try to pinpoint a more precise economic content, we should first emphasize our belief in free trade and in the free flow of goods, with all parties waiving their rights to erect various barriers at their common boundaries and forsaking all recourses to any form of indirect hindrance that would not be explicitly provided for in a common agreement.

It would also mean the maintaining of a common tariff as protection against third parties, if considered necessary for the long- or short-term interests of one or both parties. It would mean the mutual recognition by both parties that, on its own territory, each has the right to protect its agricultural production, to implement temporary programs to combat specific economic or manpower problems and, finally, rights to put forward preferential buying policies.

Secondly, the economic association would include the recognition of the dollar as the continuing and only currency having legal tender.

Thirdly, we believe in the free flow of capital, providing each party's right to enact specific provisions relative to the regulation of certain financial institutions. All other temporary or permanent measures not within the norm of the general principle of free flow should be negotiated as a specific agreement.

Finally, the association concept also embodies the notion of free movement of people between territories, with both states reciprocally waiving their right to impose border controls. Common arrangements regarding manpower problems, labour market planning and immigration should be encouraged as they are in certain cases today.

In fact, sovereignty association implies by definition reshaping Canada. It can be a tremendous and valuable challenge for both our communities. Would we not have the unique opportunity to live through historical moments? Are we not big enough for them? I believe we are and our history tells us so.

It is important to underline-because it is often forgotten--that since the end of the French regime Canada has known five constitutions. After 112 years, devising a sixth one should not be such a traumatic experience.

Indeed, in 1763, after three years of military rule, the Royal Proclamation, and the other ordinances completing it, imposed British rule on the newly acquired French populated territories. That proclamation was, indeed, the first constitution of Canada.

Sir Guy Carleton observed that British law and customs were fundamentally different from those of the French culture of "les Canadiens." Through what is known as the Quebec Act, Carleton got the colonial office to reinstate in Canada "le droit coutumier" and religious freedom in 1774. This was our second constitution.

In the following years, with the coming of the Loyalists from the United States, the Constitutional Act of 1791 did not even create a sovereignty association model of society for Canada: it did put in place a separatist model, with the creation of Upper and Lower Canada. Each had its separate assembly and executive council; each was dominated in the assembly by an English or French majority.

The act of 1791 was in fact our third constitution which was the factual recognition of the principle of the two founding nations. It was also the recognition of political duality in Canada. Even if Upper and Lower Canada were under the trusteeship of the colonial office, and the executive power embodied in the executive councils was not responsible to the legislative assemblies, the principle of the duality of nations was already a fact of life in those early days.

In 1838, London sent Lord Durham after the violent events surrounding the armed uprisings in both Upper and Lower Canada over the question of responsible government and subsidies (and this is a good example, incidentally, of common objectives shared by the two founding peoples).

Durham found, in Lower Canada, a nation of "Frenchmen although different from those of France" and, within Lower Canada, "two nations at war in the bosom of a single state." This was a hundred years before the Laurendeau-Dunton Commission recognized biculturalism. It was also a long time before the Pepin-Robarts Commission emphasized the dual character of Canada and recognized the tensions generated by any political system ignoring it.

But at the end of the 1830s, peace had to be restored. In that context, Lord Durham conceived a long-term plan of minorization for French Canadians through the creation of new institutions which, in a transition period, would provide for equal representation of both Upper and Lower Canada in a united Parliament. This gave way to our fourth constitution and the Act of Union of 1841 provided equality of representation although the population of Lower Canada was more numerous than that of Upper Canada. That united Parliament was no success.

That finally got us to 1867 and a fifth constitution for Canada, the British North America Act. So Confederation began.

Thus through time, conditions changed, and our ancestors adapted to them. Many conditions have changed since then, but we seem unable to adapt. Constitutions and laws as much as possible should be made for people. It should not be the other way around.

Confederation was essentially a federation and, of course, the two central provinces had an important role to play in it. But it was created in such a way that the federal system gradually evolved and changed through centralization of powers in the hands of the federal government. It is only weakly that the British North America Act recognized, by the notions of bilingualism, that Quebec maybe was not "une province comme les autres."

As early as 1887, a Quebec politician, Premier Honore Mercier, convened the first inter-provincial conference to assess the success and shortcomings of the federal system initiated twenty years earlier. One of the recommendations of that meeting was that senators should be nominated by the provinces. Ninety-two years later, a certain document published by the federal government and called "A Time for Action" offered that idea as an innovation that would solve some of Quebec's problems.

One is not born a sovereignist in Quebec, nor is it a disease one catches, but it sometimes takes as little as one federal-provincial conference to become one. The example of the Senate nominations I just gave you is symbolic of the kinds of frustrations Quebeckers, especially Quebeckers, have been living with: the timeconsuming process of waiting decades or a century to have a demand for a minor change offered back as an irresistible new breakthrough is frustrating.

In Quebec we have plans and priorities, we have a vision of what is best for our development. We want to build a society that could offer a challenge to an often alienated people. We want to make choices to build and face the future, but the constitutional snail pacing has precluded us from effectively acting on these priorities. It has prevented us from innovating and implementing plans or ideas; it has slowed our development as a people. Imagine the frustration it can generate on vital issues. As the French poet Andre Frenaud said: "Eternity is a long time, especially towards the end."

Public figures in Quebec's history, from Honore Mercier to Rene Levesque, have taken the notion of provincial autonomy as a central theme of our action. Quebec, since the turn of the century, has become more and more conscious of itself, more and more aware of the necessity to exercise its own power in all the realm of its activities.

In the 1960s, the Quiet Revolution was punctuated by political slogans appealing to the identification of Quebeckers to their own territory: "Quebec." It was also the time of a great cultural effervescence, the rise of the chansonniers and poets whose influence in the daily lives of the people is phenomenal and is often underestimated. It was also a time of fast growth and development, especially urban development, a reorientation of the economy and, as in the rest of North America, a booming of the service economy.

In that period, government also started playing a tremendous role in the life of Quebec. French Canadians, because of the limited access to executive jobs in the private sector, started devising new means to translate their dreams and aspirations into realities. Through governments, or innovative approaches, like the Caisses Populaires, or co-operation in sectors like food distribution and the concept of centralized buying for independent store owners, Quebec started to move towards the future. An opening on the outside world which had been denied to us was achieved through international representation. The "Maison du Quebec" in Paris opened the way to other such undertakings in other parts of the world. Billions of dollars of our collective wealth were invested in education. From a poorly educated province, Quebec became one of the most scholarized societies in the western world. A tremendous improvement program for universities was launched. Literally an explosion of legislation in the sectors of health and welfare brought along the allocation of substantial budgets to catch up with others. The expansion and development of HydroQuebec took an average government undertaking to the forefront of utilities in North America, in terms of assets, energy produced and technological development. The creation by the Quebec Government of the Caisse de Depot et de Placement gave us a multibillion dollar financial tool which is today the largest holder of Canadian companies' stocks--in itself a good proof of our confidence in the future of Canada, whatever the results of the referendum.

We are now cashing in on those massive investments in education. The public sector in its drive for growth took most of the early crop. Now fine-tuned universities, with professors with degrees from the world's most prestigious schools of higher learning, are producing French-speaking engineers, architects, scientists, professionals in all fields, administrators and accountants, for whom Quebec should be the centre of activities, the place where things are getting done and where they can have real, effective influence.

Their rising expectations call for new challenges and new openings. They realize that the constant arguing and fighting required in the present federal arrangement is counter-productive and sterile. They know now that Japan, Germany and the Scandinavian countries are ahead in the economic race because they use the full strength of their national cohesion to set and reach common goals.

The previous federal government threw away millions of dollars to camouflage these realities by an uncalled for bilingualism mystique in the name of Canadian unity. English Canada got rightly fed up. Now the Parti Quebecois is proposing a change, a rearrangement of powers based on mutual respect, on equality and on justice.

In that family known as Canada, one of the sons has grown. For thousands of years humans have accepted the fact that maturity confers equality of rights. Quebec is now a mature society, ready to take its place in the Canadian arrangement.

The Magna Carta recognized the emergence of a new power, centuries ago in England. By granting it, the king gave his barons new powers. But he also set the base for a political system that brought along an empire that this club celebrates and that expanded western civilization. Together, Canadians and Quebeckers alike, through imagination and tolerance, should stop fighting and start building in equality a new system that could help us face the tremendous economic challenge of the eighties.

There is rough sea ahead. The world economic order has to be rearranged. Energy, pollution, scarcities in resources, coupled with the limitless possibilities of information processing, of science and technology set the stage for incredible changes. We need all our strength, all our ideas to face the choices ahead. Do we really need a perpetual fight over constitutional problems?

Why not try a little exercise in reverse thinking here? Try to imagine that Canada is eighty per cent French-speaking, that the whole of North America is ninety-six per cent French-speaking, that Ontario is a province where you constitute the vast majority of those who are the English people of this continent. Try to imagine that English community, centred in Ontario, historically recognized because it is one of the founding peoples of Canada, who have participated in its political institutions, but having been more or less marginalized with time. Suppose you are not really at the centre of the decisions taken in the Parliament of Hull. Try to imagine the fast growth that your intelligence and imagination would bring in internal development but remember that the basic powers to make planning decisions are still eluding the Ontario government and are mostly in the hands of a parliament dominated by members from nine other French-speaking provinces. Many of these French provinces have a smaller population than Toronto. Suppose you could, with a democratic referendum, become masters in your own house by bringing back to Ontario the whole of your tax base and the whole of your legislative powers.

What would you decide? What would you decide if the alternatives were another century of sterile discussions, of divisions even among yourselves and, eventually, of assimilation?

Would you not accept the idea of having legislative rights, taxes, capacity to influence every aspect of your community's future from communication to immigration, especially in terms of economic orientation, development, creation and setting of institutions, priorities of internal regional development, the priorities and choices of all kinds that are made in a modern society?

Would you not be tempted strongly to choose to capitalize on your difference instead of wasting energy, time, even happiness trying to fight it? And at the same time, would not the rest of Canada be worth saving and be worth developing, even in a French setting, just as it is worth developing and saving now in an English setting?

Whatever our opinions on constitutional matters, there is an indisputable fact--a stubborn fact that two hundred years of ignoring and negating were never able to change: Quebec is different. There is a difference, whichever way you look at it. And that "difference" does not make Quebeckers better or worse than Canadians. They are simply different.

That difference is here, it is a fact. Though it is hard to pinpoint, it is more than only language and culture.

It is something far more complex. "La difference" probably originates in the different evolution we had to live through. With certain fields denied to us, we compensated by developing other parts of our existence, and three hundred years of "specialization" gave us a different outlook on life. "La difference" is more than the by-product of an educational system. It manifests itself in market fads as well as in fundamental structural differences. It is the denying of "la difference" that must come to an end, because that difference instead of being a source of division should be a positive force. At various points in Canadian history, that difference served to keep Canada as it is. In certain areas it helped to keep Canada as a different entity from our southern neighbours.

It is this very difference that was, ironically, the cement of a sometimes tense relationship between the two founding peoples. It can also be the cement of something to look forward to, when Quebec has decided what it wants. That difference, but also that will to build together, is still there in all of us Quebeckers to go on making of Canada and Quebec something different.

Of course, it is true that Quebec is rocking the boat with the referendum. But then this is not really new; the province has so many times done so, voicing its dissatisfaction with our system, constantly complaining and sometimes finding therein easy alibis. This is one of the advantages that Canada should find in the referendum: the prospect of a peaceful Quebec. It should answer at last the proverbial question, "What does Quebec want?" It should clear the air of the constant beating around the bush that has lasted long enough.

Of course the interdependence of our economies is in that context one of the main motivations for both of us not only to maintain but to build something together. Billions of dollars worth of goods and services each year go between Quebec and the rest of Canada, playing an important role on each other's markets. Tens of thousands of jobs reciprocally depend on one another (the textile worker or the machinist of Quebec, the auto worker in Ontario, or the cattle breeder in Calgary). While the Canadian citizen, in his daily life, would not really notice Quebec's accession to sovereignty within the context of sovereignty association, both the Quebec and the Canadian resident could not miss noticing a major rupture in the Canadian economy.

In a certain sense, as an old uncle used to say, if you go fishing on the lake and it gets cold, you shouldn't try starting a fire in the boat by lighting the oars. Besides these reciprocal although unequal interests in different sectors, there are other reasons that might not be more important in terms of development, but that make the notion of association not only viable but thrilling for Canada as a whole.

Besides sharing inflation, unemployment and a devaluation of the dollar, we have had in the past and still have a few things in common besides our economies and our markets: we share certain ways of living. We share a feeling as Quebeckers that what is Canadian is also ours, just as many Canadians also feel that what is from Quebec is theirs.

Maybe that ambivalence is not strong enough to build, pay for and endure, as far as we are concerned, a central government, but it is there nevertheless. Civil liberties and democratic values are as "Quebecois" as they are Canadian in tradition. Our common, even if sometimes tense, history fundamentally links us together and is something to look back on. Of course, a certain unilateral flavour in a Quebec referendum is forcing Canada to redefine itself. It may be difficult to accept but should it not be seen as a challenge? Is it not a terrific challenge for both our people to look forward to undertakings in which we would both have a sense of fulfilment instead of having a sense of just bearing one another?

After the referendum, the question of your attitude towards Quebec will be essentially for Canada to answer. I hope that during the debate which is coming we will all keep in mind that whatever happens history will keep going on, but geography will stand still and keep us as neighbours forever.

Will we keep the pioneering spirit and the open mindedness that gave us five constitutions up to now, when they were needed, or will we remain prisoners of fear and prejudice? Will we find solutions that tap the best qualities of the two founding groups?

I would hope, after the referendum has been won, that the history text books will say that through imagination the Canadian federation solved in 1980 its major problem: the Quebec question. That it invented a new kind of union and a new set of institutions. Let history say that both the Canadian people and the Quebec people got together and created common institutions related to their common interests. Let the future acknowledge that this did not solve all the problems of Canada, but it allowed two people to develop more freely, each according to its own will, its own priorities and its own identity, in a spirit of co-operation if not of outright cordiality.

The thanks of the club were expressed to Dr. Johnson by Terrence Tyers, a director of The Empire Club of Canada.

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The Association of Tomorrow

An address one week prior to the publication of the Government of Quebec's white paper on sovereignty association. Months of debates to follow, culminating in December with the formal disclosure of the proposed referendum question, then a move to the National Assembly for discussion in Parliament. Then the referendum itself. What this process means to Quebec and the rest of Canada. A history, discussion and definition of the concept of sovereignty association. Plans, priorities, and the vision for Quebec. The issue of the constitution. The differences between Quebec and the rest of the Canada. The interdependence of economies. The attitude of the rest of Canada towards Quebec after the referendum.