Last week, prior to the start of the 19th Alternating Meeting between the Premier of Quebec and the Prime Minister of France, Premier Philippe Couillard, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Prime Minister Manuel Valls spoke with a united voice, promoting the signing, by Canada and the European Union, of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).
It should be noted that Quebec played a key role in the decision, by Canada and the European Union, to envision a broad and ambitious economic partnership, and to begin, in 2009, CETA negotiations. Indeed, as of 2006, then-Premier Jean Charest made clear the importance of strengthening economic relations between these two commercial partners. He made political overtures in this regard to representatives of the Canadian federal government and the European Union.
During the business luncheon, Prime Minister Trudeau stated, “This is an example of what Quebec’s diplomatic presence on the international scene can achieve, not only to strengthen the province’s reputation around the world, but also Canada’s international reputation.”
Mr. Trudeau also took advantage of this gathering to declare that, “Quebec enjoys a unique, direct and privileged relationship with France”.
These strong, clear statements, made in the boldest way possible by a Canadian Prime Minister, represent a historic recognition that Quebec has a voice in international relations, that it has a unique relationship with France, acting through its network of 28 institutions which represent the province in that country.
The federal government is therefore recognizing a crucial element of our personality, one that is particular to Quebec, one which is not in competition with Canada, but which enhances Canada’s international relations and offers another dimension to those relations.
Together, we are stronger, and Quebec’s voice in international matters is an advantage for Canada.
Whether it be culture, social affairs, education, the economy or climate change, more than ever before, the international role played by Quebec is recognized.
Since the 1960s, Quebec has considered it essential that its voice in international matters, with regard not only to matters that are in its exclusive jurisdiction, but also, more and more, to matters in which Quebec shares jurisdiction with the federal government. Quebec’s international work to fight climate change demonstrates this principle.
Whenever he meets with the Prime Minister of China, the President of Mexico or the President of Cuba, or when he participates in international forums such as COP 21 (at which he served as co-chair of the States and Regions Alliance), Premier Couillard speaks of Quebec’s vision of modernity.
The ability of Quebec to take its rightful place at the table takes nothing away from others. On the contrary! By recognizing this aspect of Quebec’s distinct society, Mr. Trudeau is suggesting a vision of Canada which sees Quebec’s unique personality as an asset, rather than denying it. We can choose cooperation over conflict, quarrels and division. We can do that because, after all, it is 2016!
Last Thursday, Canada once again recognized that “Quebec is different, and that’s a good thing.” To which we answer, “We are Quebecers, and that’s our way of being Canadians.”
Member for Acadie, Minister of International Relations and the Francophonie and Minister responsible for the Laurentides Region
Member for Saint-Laurent, Government House Leader and Minister responsible for Canadian Relations and the Canadian Francophonie