Quebec's Place in Canada
Publication
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 18 Jan 1995, p. 407-420
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Johnson, The Hon. Daniel, Speaker
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Text
Item Type
Speeches
Description
A joint meeting of The Empire Club of Canada and The Canadian Club of Toronto.
The decision Quebeckers will be making this year. A decision about Quebec's place in Canada. The speaker's hope for our long-term future together. The recent general election in Quebec. The speaker addresses the audience as a Quebecker and as a Canadian. A discussion of these two aspects of a complex identity. The referendum to take place this year in Quebec. How it could have been avoided. The various views of Quebeckers. Broadening the perspective of change for Canada. The various reasons that various Canadians want change in Canada. The issue of decentralisation. Decentralisation of responsibilities towards the provinces not an end in itself. The need for interprovincial co-ordination, in substitution for federal legislation, to ensure a sufficient level of compatibility between provincial policies. Now not the appropriate moment for constitutional talks, and why. What we must do after Quebeckers have rejected separation. Intentions of the Quebec Liberal Party. Some views on the referendum itself, on the Parti Québécois proposal, and on how the speaker believes Quebeckers should deal with it. After a hypothetical "yes" vote. What will be involved in the fight for Quebec and Canada. What a renewed commitment to Canada by a majority of Quebeckers will provide for both Quebec and Canada. Getting over the hurdle of referendum. Events leading to and including the campaign. Sharing the desire to build a lasting and productive partnership in the interest of all our citizens.
Date of Original
18 Jan 1995
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English
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The speeches are free of charge but please note that the Empire Club of Canada retains copyright. Neither the speeches themselves nor any part of their content may be used for any purpose other than personal interest or research without the explicit permission of the Empire Club of Canada.
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Full Text
The Hon. Daniel Johnson, Leader of the Opposition, Province of Quebec
QUEBEC'S PLACE IN CANADA
Chairman: John A. Campion
President, The Empire Club of Canada

Head Table Guests

Siva Ratnasingam, Grade 13 student, Western Technical and Commercial School; Andre Lalonde, ACFO; The Rev. Dr. Thomas Eng, Rector, Chinese Presbyterian Church of Toronto; Peter Dunn, Senior Representative, Government of Quebec-Toronto; Wanda Dorosz, President and CEO, Quorum Growth Inc.; Frank Miller, Chairman of the Board, Algoma Central Corporation and former Premier of Ontario; Sandie Rinaldo, Anchor, CTV News; Laurent Beaudoin, Chairman and CEO, Bombardier Inc.; Lyn McLeod, Leader of the Opposition, Province of Ontario; The Hon. William G. Davis, Counsel, Tory Tory DesLauriers & Binnington and former Premier of Ontario; Claudette MacKay-Lassonde, President, Firelight Investments Limited and a Director, The Canadian Club of Toronto; Dr. Annamarie Castrilli, Chair, Governing Council, University of Toronto; Dan Iannuzzi, Publisher, Corriere Canadese; Sonja Bata, Director, Bata Limited; Gerald Schwartz, Chairman, President and CEO, Onex Corporation; Herbert Phillipps Jr., President, The Canadian Club of Toronto; and The Hon. Bob. Rae, Premier of Ontario.

Introduction by John Campion

Quebec's Passion and Illusion

The history of France from 1848 to 1945 was the subject of a book called Politics and Anger by Dr. Theodore Zeldin. Le Review Historique de France et Le Monde variously described it as an irreplaceable classic and one of the most important books ever written about French civilization.

Dr. Zeldin, not only described Frenchmen to themselves and to the world but also discovered universal man and woman beneath the surface of the French. France of that 100-year period was a complex country where religious, social, constitutional, economic and regional divisions cut across politics.

Unlike Canada in the same period, these divisions in France made agreement on any issue only partial and any political solutions found only created new problems.

In discovering the essence of universal man and woman and thereby seeking guidance for us in Canada today, Dr. Zeldin described political life as being about passions and illusions. He rejected the usual prescription of describing a country through formal politics and literature. Instead, he found truth only through the individual as they resisted the political, economic, institutional and emotional pressures around them, coped with frailties and fears and found ways to gratify their ambitions and solve their problems.

Let me deal then with passions, illusions and individual Canadians. I am only too aware that in their person, leaders of the "No" forces in Quebec represent the passions of individual Canadians outside and inside Quebec that our great country stay together. The "No" committee must discover and explain the illusions of those who would ask Quebeckers to step into the dark abyss of separation. In doing so, they will not only be speaking to the individual Quebecker about his or her past and future, they will carry with them the dreams and hopes of all individual Canadians as they too resist pressures, cope with frailties and fears, find ways to gratify their ambitions and solve problems of a real kind.

Quebec in Canada is dear to our souls. We Canadians, inside and outside Quebec, have spent a lifetime contemplating, understanding, accommodating and loving this wonderful province with its creative, passionate and lively citizens.

It is apparent that after all has been reviewed, summarized and considered, there is no one true view about Quebec in Canada. As a result, Canada again is about to be tested. The great test comes at a time when the world seems to be in enormous flux, when the marriage chest of Canadian public finance has been depleted of the family silver and when, in the face of the so-called global uniformity, familiar and intimate communities of a smaller size are the desired, if not illusory, retreat and safe haven from a hostile, impersonal and anxious world.

The test, then, is coming again. Because Quebec will always be geographically and directly east of Ontario and west of the Maritimes, because her people will always trade, interact and compete with those living east and west, we will forever have to embrace Quebec.

Accommodation can best be made within a single country, sharing a common history and looking forward to a prosperous and exciting future, and not between two countries rent asunder after hundreds of years of extraordinary success in nation-building.

Canada remains the best safe haven from a hostile world for all her citizens. It remains the glory that the world outside envies. That same world is bewildered at the existence and the timing of this test. But a test we must endure, engage in and win.

Daniel Johnson is an accomplished legal academic, having a degree from the University de Montreal in 1966 and admission to the Bar of Quebec in 1967 and a Masters and Ph.D. in law from the University of London. Finally, he has an MBA from Harvard Business School. He has worked as a lawyer at Power Corporation of Canada, and was an active member of boards of directors and executive committees of community, arts and commercial organisations.

Daniel Johnson joined the Quebec Liberal Party in 1977 and was first elected to the National Assembly in 1981. As you know, Mr. Johnson was a cabinet minister in the Quebec government from 1985 to 1994 and became Leader of the Quebec Liberal Party and Prime Minister of Quebec by January, 1994. He is the Leader of the Official Opposition in Quebec and has, by reason of his authority and position, taken the lead role in persuading Quebeckers that Canada is their best option. Please welcome The Honourable Daniel Johnson.

Daniel Johnson

I'm here to speak to you about the decision Quebeckers will be making this year. Our decision is about Quebec's place in Canada. So we are all interested and concerned. I am here to speak about my hopes for our long-term future together.

In Quebec's recent general election, the PQ won 77 seats to the Liberal Party's 47. In terms of popular support, 14,000 ballots out of 3.9 million separate our two parties. That's a majority of one half of one per cent--a pretty close call. Nevertheless, the PQ was elected to govern. It campaigned on a platform of good government and promised to hold a referendum on Quebec's sovereignty some time this year.

I'm standing here both as a Quebecker and as a Canadian. I am proud to be both and am not about to renounce either status. This complex identity results from a special affection for that corner of North America where Jacques Cartier and Samuel de Champlain began an adventure which evolved into a vibrant society 400 years later. The complex identity also results from a sense of belonging to a shared entity, the Canada established in 1867. I would like to spend a few moments to discuss these two aspects.

This identification with Quebec has grown stronger. The changes and achievements in all areas of human activity which have occurred in the last 30-35 years have fostered a deep sense of pride. And the modern media have caused us to act and react as such proud Quebeckers. The French-speaking majority of Quebec, in becoming, within a generation, "masters in their own house," have developed a renewed and emotionally positive sense of what it means to be a Quebecker.

The destiny of this community, of which I am a part, was never restricted to the St. Lawrence Valley. Early on, it extended to the vast hinterland of this continent. Not unlike the Americans to the south, we wanted to make a new beginning, to reach the vastness and richness of this continent, and to co-operate, compete, or fight with anyone who stood in the way of that dream. Belonging to Canada is how we have chosen to fulfill this destiny.

By 1960, the Canadian duality, the status of the French language, and the role and the influence of Francophones in federal institutions all had deteriorated to a point where French-speaking Quebeckers felt that their sense of belonging was to say the least being seriously tested.

This, combined with an evermore powerful federal government and the lack of Francophone influence in economic matters even within Quebec, created a situation that threatened the very fabric of the country.

Yet through national debate and political action in the 1960s, things did start to change, and they changed dramatically. It was not easy for Quebeckers to challenge the existing order and to bring about real change. But the significant fact is that Canada and its leadership accepted and indeed promoted a new and different Canada. Canadians were convinced that the new political realities called for changes, that Quebec's case had been well defined and that that case dealt both with Quebec's place within Canada and Quebeckers' place in Canadian institutions. The hope then was, I think, that Quebeckers were looking for and would feel a renewed sense of belonging to Canada as the country evolved.

And we Quebeckers have indeed renewed our commitment. The results of the 1980 referendum did show it. For better or for worse, Quebeckers are the only Canadians who as a people have formally reaffirmed their will to be Canadians. And a majority of Quebeckers today do feel, as I do, a sense of belonging to Canada. Things are not perfect--and the constitutional situation is a striking example--but we cannot turn our backs on our long history, and (more importantly) on a country within which we Quebeckers have developed the society of which we are so proud today.

And yet, another referendum will take place this year in Quebec. It could, perhaps, have been avoided if the constitutional episode of 1981 had not been allowed to proceed. And it almost certainly would have been avoided if the Meech Lake Accord had been ratified. I will not try today to expand on what an ideal amending formula for the Constitution of the country should be, but I can assure you of one thing: if we want to preserve our country--and have a country that works--the patriation of 1981 should be the first and last time that the powers of the National Assembly in Quebec are affected by an amendment to the Constitution without its consent. This situation will require our attention as soon as is practical--and in any case before the constitutional evolution of Canada can resume.

What I am saying here today is that there is an important piece of unfinished business, and it will have to be addressed with all the care, time, and importance that it requires from all concerned, without rush and in full awareness of the issues. Indeed, I can't imagine that one could consider a political situation where Quebec remains an unwilling partner to the Constitution, as a normal or viable long-term state of affairs.

Quebeckers who do not wish to separate are truly committed to the vision of the country held by Canada's Founding Fathers at the time of Confederation. That vision recognised the need of Canada's two major linguistic communities to live within institutions which fully reflect that reality. Federalism was seen as a way of uniting societies far too different to blend into a unitary state.

That original vision is just as appropriate in our era of world economic integration. Indeed, that recent trend is exerting a restraining pressure on culture that people seek to counter-balance. Quebeckers need strong institutions of their own to support their sense of identity. The strength and confidence we derive from these institutions enable us to regard world economic integration as an opportunity rather than a threat.

Sovereignists in Quebec carry this argument to the hilt when they assert that a separate country is a necessary condition for Quebeckers to feel secure in the context of globalisation. Quebeckers for the "No," on the other hand, feel sufficiently confident inside the Canadian political and economic union so as not to require a separate country. However, they would not want their rejection of separation to be taken as support for constitutional status quo. It is a statement for Canada, and in favour of the Canadian union. It is also a statement in favour of evolution.

Let me broaden this perspective of change for Canada. I know all parts of Canada have reasons to want change. Canadian federalism must continue to adapt, as it has done in the past. First, globalisation highlights the need for stronger institutions with which citizens can more readily identify. Also, Canada's fiscal crisis is increasing the pressure on governments to deliver services more efficiently. These factors and others ultimately will create a more flexible federal system, in which provincial and federal governments take charge of the policy areas they are best suited to manage. Of course, this may not necessarily correspond exactly to the present-day constitutional division of powers; hence, the likelihood of changes over time.

That being said, it must be clear that decentralisation of responsibilities towards the provinces is not an end in itself. Indeed, care should be taken to evaluate decentralisation proposals in the light of the principle of subsidiarity, under which only those matters that cannot be managed in a fair and efficient manner at a level that keeps decision making the closest possible to the citizen would be conferred to central government.

That is why I do not favour wholesale decentralisation per se. I support decentralisation when the tax-paying public can be better served by their provincial government or when no gain can be obtained from exercising activities at the central government level.

Moreover, if our Canadian economic space is to have any meaning, inter-provincial co-ordination, in substitution for federal legislation, must ensure a sufficient level of compatibility between provincial policies.

In approaching change in this fashion, I know Quebeckers are not alone. The Canada I see today is not that monolithic centralist bloc that Premier Parizeau and some other myopic separatists would like Quebeckers to endorse. It's not a question of Us versus Them. Canada is a far more complex country.

So, as you must have noticed, in the referendum, I will bring up the need to consider adjustments, adaptation, evolution and changes. Of course, Quebeckers won't get to vote on any or all types of changes to federalism, but it is imperative that supporters of the "No" get a sense of what follows a "No" vote.

However, right now is not the appropriate moment for constitutional talks, if only because one cannot hope to get a government committed to separation to agree to even the most favourable constitutional reform.

After Quebeckers have rejected separation, we must relearn how to conduct constitutional reform in a less spectacular and more evolutionary manner. The practice of constitutional negotiation must not persist as a high-stakes game which monopolises the public agenda. It must be de-dramatised and must become a more pragmatic process in a federal state like Canada. It will certainly call for less stomping and more statecraft: statesmanship will always carry the day over partisan posturing.

The Quebec Liberal Party intends to make a positive contribution in this area. Last week, in preparation for the next general election, we created a committee whose mandate is to review our platform on the place of Quebec in Canada, on the evolution of Canadian federalism, and on the Constitution, as well as to suggest a new process for reform. After a "No" win in the referendum, without imposing a timetable or presenting an ultimatum, I hope other political organisations in Canada will join us in this endeavour and will see the benefits of examining, discussing and debating issues of change and adaptation.

Let me now share some views on the referendum itself, on the Parti Quebecois proposal, and on how I believe Quebeckers should deal with it.

A little over a month ago, Premier Parizeau tabled a draft bill on the sovereignty of Quebec in the National Assembly. At the same time, he explained what he calls--very loosely, I might add--a consultation process to be held over the next two months. Let me say a few words about the pre-referendum process. The Quebec Liberal Party, as well as the Liberal Party of Canada and the Progressive Conservatives in Quebec, have decided not to sit as members on the travelling regional commissions the government has created. The first reason is very simple: their mandate is to draft the declaration of independence that has been left blank in the preamble of the draft bill, and to improve on the sections of the bill.

How could a federalist party help in thus restricting the debate? Doing so would bring legitimacy to the conclusions that had already been drawn. Also, we really question the democratic value of the whole exercise, to the extent that the provisions of the Referendum Act in Quebec do not apply to this pre-referendum process. Our law provides for equal representation and equal resources for the "Yes" and "No" sides throughout the referendum process. In the current pre-referendum process, we were offered one seat out of 15 on every commission.

Furthermore, the PQ announced their intention, carried out since, to home-deliver a copy of the Sovereignty Draft Bill, which is drafted in such a way as to subtly advocate sovereignty and counter federalist arguments. We felt then, and still feel today, that this whole exercise is a propaganda scheme to give the "Yes" side a headstart in the campaign.

So we have decided not to be members of the commissions, but we did not call for a boycott by the "No" supporters. It is now clear that opponents of separation will attend to make their views known or ask pointed questions.

As for the draft bill itself, I mentioned that it was developed more to support separatist arguments than to present factual aspects of Quebec separation.

I have begun and intend to continue making the case in Quebec that the draft bill is a mixture of hypotheses and wishful thinking. It tries to create the impression that matters that are uncertain or cannot be guaranteed following secession will, on the contrary, be easily settled by the PQ government. It describes a situation where Quebec declares divorce and unilaterally remarries the rest of Canada under a new, allegedly "improved," and less restraining arrangement. Membership in NAFTA and NATO are presented as automatic, and the use of the Canadian dollar and Canadian citizenship by Quebeckers could supposedly be maintained under the same conditions.

Jacques Parizeau's argument is that the rest of Canada will have to negotiate in the aftermath of a "Yes" vote. Having said that, he proceeds with the conclusion that Quebec could get everything it likes in the Canadian Federation while chatting over tea in a newly established warm neighbourly dialogue and at the same time get rid of all the nagging inconveniences. By Jove! How simple things can be when you write every part of the script!

I won't go so far as to state that discussions would not take place, since this conveys to Quebeckers that the votes they will cast do not concern Canadians in any way. But Jacques Parizeau's oversimplification should not be left standing there, as if it were true or even remotely realistic.

First of all, after a hypothetical "Yes" vote, who would represent the rest of Canada at the negotiating table? The Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance, and the Minister for External Affairs are all Quebeckers. Is an election called? Do the Liberal Party of Canada and the Progressive Conservatives go through leadership conventions? What about the Senate? What would be its role?

What about the provinces? How do they get involved? Does the rest of Canada keep the same structure? Even assuming phenomenal amounts of goodwill and good faith, which might take some time to recover after a referendum, it would take quite some time for the rest of Canada to settle into a negotiating position. When you stop and think, all this should have a sobering effect on over-optimistic dreamers who believe in the PQ's fairy tale.

In any case, even disregarding the transition costs, I am asking the PQ: What will secession accomplish? What will be its impact on jobs? The most optimistic forecasts by economists who favour sovereignty indicate that the secession impact would be negative, albeit relatively small. That is very small comfort: at 11 to 12 per cent unemployment, why would we embark in a project which, in the best-case scenarios, involves a loss of jobs! What will be the impact of secession on trade, on agricultural quotas, on textile quotas, and so on? So I intend to constantly challenge the PQ to make its case, to prove its points, to demonstrate how everything will change without anything really changing.

Of course, our fight for Quebec and Canada will also involve putting across a positive image of Canada, a strong economic case against separation, a vision of Canada as it evolves to better meet the aspirations and needs of its citizens and of the various parts of the country.

I believe that a renewed commitment to Canada by a majority of Quebeckers will provide both Quebec and Canada with new opportunities and a new sense of confidence, and generate a strong dose of positive thinking. Canada's future after Quebec's rejection of separation will depend on the ability of leaders across the land to seize upon the new spirit to move things into new directions.

But first we have to get over the hurdle of the referendum. And as there is no substitute for the freely expressed will of the people in trying to keep a country such as Canada together, this means that Quebeckers for the "No" vote will campaign hard to win over a large majority of our fellow Quebeckers. The months ahead will not be easy. They may be filled with pitfalls, but there will be opportunities. Quebeckers collectively will be making an important choice. The choice that I will be presenting will be one of responsive and flexible federalism.

The events leading to and including the campaign will require patience, courage and understanding. Quebeckers must be made to feel that their choice represents progress and change. By rejecting separation or the breakup of Canada, Quebeckers would not be sending a signal that all is well. Quebeckers may be the only ones literally expressing their vote on the future of the country, but it is the responsibility of all Canadians to make this vote meaningful. If it is obvious that people want their opinions and their votes to make a difference, it should be equally obvious that a "No" vote should signal the start of a renewed and active partnership between all Canadians.

In the coming months, Quebeckers and all Canadian leaders will need to be lucid, imaginative and strong. I am not here to tell you that everything will be easy. I am here to share with you my enthusiasm for post-referendum Quebec and Canada.

For Canadians outside Quebec, the next few months call for resisting the take-it-or-leave-it rhetoric that so often precedes breakups of all sorts. It implies a willingness to change some aspects of our federation--mainly for our own good, not only to accommodate Quebec.

Quebeckers, by rejecting the option of separation, will continue to put forth, with patience and determination, a vision of Canadian federalism in which we believe. Quebeckers will show strength not by slamming doors, but rather by sitting down with our neighbours and partners, with whom we don't always agree at the outset, but with whom we share a desire to build a lasting and productive partnership in the interest of all our citizens.

The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Herbert Phillipps Jr., President, The Canadian Club of Toronto.

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Quebec's Place in Canada


A joint meeting of The Empire Club of Canada and The Canadian Club of Toronto.
The decision Quebeckers will be making this year. A decision about Quebec's place in Canada. The speaker's hope for our long-term future together. The recent general election in Quebec. The speaker addresses the audience as a Quebecker and as a Canadian. A discussion of these two aspects of a complex identity. The referendum to take place this year in Quebec. How it could have been avoided. The various views of Quebeckers. Broadening the perspective of change for Canada. The various reasons that various Canadians want change in Canada. The issue of decentralisation. Decentralisation of responsibilities towards the provinces not an end in itself. The need for interprovincial co-ordination, in substitution for federal legislation, to ensure a sufficient level of compatibility between provincial policies. Now not the appropriate moment for constitutional talks, and why. What we must do after Quebeckers have rejected separation. Intentions of the Quebec Liberal Party. Some views on the referendum itself, on the Parti Québécois proposal, and on how the speaker believes Quebeckers should deal with it. After a hypothetical "yes" vote. What will be involved in the fight for Quebec and Canada. What a renewed commitment to Canada by a majority of Quebeckers will provide for both Quebec and Canada. Getting over the hurdle of referendum. Events leading to and including the campaign. Sharing the desire to build a lasting and productive partnership in the interest of all our citizens.