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Queen’s University, Kingston, le 17 juin 2017 Le Canada à 150 ans : fédéralisme et renouveau démocratique

La version prononcée fait foi.

C’est un grand plaisir d’être parmi vous, à peine deux semaines après le dévoilement officiel de la Politique d’affirmation et de relations canadiennes du gouvernement du Québec.

It is more than fitting that the first academic conference to which I participate after the unveiling of the Policy on Québec Affirmation and Canadian Relations is here at the Institute of Intergovernmental Relations.

Over the years, the annual conference on the state of the federation has provided an invaluable forum for discussing major themes related to how as a federation we choose to live together.

I would like to thank the organizers of this conference, the Director of the Institute, Elizabeth Goodyear-Grant, the Associate Director, Kyle Hanniman and the Administrative Secretary Mary Kennedy.


The Policy unveiled two weeks ago had the subtitle:

Quebecers, our way of being Canadian.

This expression contains, in a nutshell, the meaning and essence of Québec's participation in the Canadian Federation since its inception.

It expresses a plurality of ways of belonging that characterizes our identity.

An allegiance to Québec and a sense of belonging to Canada.

A sense of belonging to Canada that would be strengthened by an allegiance to Québec that is recognized, accepted and endorsed by the partners in the Federation.

There is nothing surprising about this because, since 1867, Québec has participated in the political project of the Federation while affirming its own national identity.

This identity is based on fundamental aspects such as its unique and predominantly French-speaking character, its civil-law tradition, and its political, cultural, economic, educational and social institutions.

Today I have come to talk to you about our common Canadian future. The basic element of that future will be to learn to live together and, to do so, to accept our individual and collective diversity.

The acceptance of this collective dimension was part of our history, we lost it somewhere over the last century.

We must find it again and make it part of our future.

We must find a way to have a dialogue about our shared experiences and about who we are as well as our respective perspectives on our way to belong.

Contrary to some reactions or comments, it is not first about constitutional changes; it is about seizing the opportunity of the 150th anniversary of the federation to reflect about ourselves – being diverse and united.

The Sources of the Plurinational Project

As French Canadians first, Quebecers were recognized as a separate entity as early as 1774 in the Quebec Act, and again in the Constitutional Act of 1791.

Following the Act of Union of 1840, the same recognition was reaffirmed in the agreement between LaFontaine and Baldwin, which neutralized the effects of the Act by establishing the double-majority rule for the passage of legislation.

In 1867, the choice of a federation and recognition for Québec were prerequisites for Québec's support.

Recognition for Québec is part of our federal history, but it was partially set aside during the last century as a new way of interpreting the meaning of the federation emerged outside of Québec.

Recognition must be granted again and returned to its rightful place in our joint project.

As we have moved away from the initial meaning of the compact between French and English Canadians, a gap has appeared between the two communities, leading to various misunderstandings.

We should not deny that our history includes a number of genuine conflicts and disagreements which have left their mark, and certain key facts bear repeating here.

As we are all aware and as we affirm here, the Constitution needs to be improved to give effect to, and to guarantee recognition for, our national identity.

That being said, as stated by Jocelyn Maclure, professor of philosophy at Université Laval:

"Despite its dark days and obvious imperfections, Canadian federalism proved to be accommodating enough for Québec to succeed in its nation building project."

We have travelled a great distance apart, and have had misunderstandings along the way, but our shared path has taken us to a level of social and economic progress that is envied around the world.

The Policy

The Policy states, first, what we are.

An inclusive nation, predominantly French-speaking, keen to respond to the aspirations of the First Nations and Inuits, enhanced by the past and present contributions of a dynamic English-speaking community, and enriched by the diversity of people of all backgrounds who have chosen to live in Québec.

The Policy, on the basis of what we are, also establishes the principles underlying our vision of Québec in Canada, and guiding Québec's Canadian relations.

Because of the distance that has built up over the years between Québec and Canada, the Policy sets out ways to begin to draw closer to our Canadian neighbours, on the basis of dialogue and mutual understanding.

More precisely, we want Québec's aspirations to be better understood. This appears to us to be an essential condition if they are to be well received.

By solemnly declaring who we are, we will make the reasons for our position easier to understand, and we will be able to better present the foundations of our vision for the future.

The promotion of Québec's interests and jurisdiction is part of this process.

Another major objective of the Policy on Québec Affirmation and Canadian Relations is to make Québec better known to civil society in Canada, and to increase its outreach throughout Canada, in particular in the economic, social and cultural spheres.

It’s not just about government or Premier and Prime Minister, it’s about citizen, people, Quebecers and all Canadians.

A Vision of Canadian Federalism

The Policy is a continuation of our political and constitutional history, drawing inspiration from it to offer an updated view of Québec's place in Canada.

We want to shift the focus to a type of federalism that recognizes collective diversity in addition to individual diversity, and that recognizes a plurality of ways of belonging in order to strengthen a shared sense of belonging.

Recognition for the national identities of Québec, and also of the Aboriginal nations, appears to be the natural fulfilment of the Canadian project.

This approach responds to the aspirations of Quebecers and demonstrates openness to the First Nations and Inuit.

The Chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Québec and Labrador, Ghislain Picard, is right to say that trust must be re-established before reconciliation can occur.

As Québec philosopher Charles Taylor stated over twenty years ago:
“For Quebecers, and for most French Canadians, the way of being a Canadian (for those who still want to be) is by their belonging to a constituent element of Canada, la nation québécoise or canadienne-francaise. Something analogous holds for aboriginal communities in this country; their way of being Canadian is not accommodated by first-level diversity. Yet many people in [Canada outside Quebec] are puzzled by the resulting sense of exclusion, because first-level diversity is the only kind to which they are sensitive and which they feel they fully acknowledge.

To build a country for everyone, Canada would have to allow for second-level or “deep” diversity, in which a plurality of ways of belonging would also be acknowledged and accepted.”

Political scientist Alain-G. Gagnon, of Université du Québec à Montréal, explains that this quest for recognition, far from being a thing of the past, is a contemporary and shared issue:

“The national diversity inherent in most contemporary states is by no means decreasing; ways therefore must be found to entrench it in political institutions, otherwise the world around us will become increasingly uncertain and political projects will become less and less respectful of societal cultures […].”

To recognize differences in the spirit of fostering closer links and mutual understanding is not an old debate.

It is a modern, and universal quest, a challenge that is even more important today, in an era of identity withdrawal and isolation around us, to the South and in Europe.

This kind of federalism, plurinational federalism, meets Québec's goal of acting as a full partner in the Canadian adventure, while upholding all the dimensions of its identity.

It also offers a way to renew the relationship with the Aboriginal peoples.

In both Québec and Canada, there is a new willingness to make a genuine effort to include the Aboriginal peoples in our shared future. This willingness must become a duty.

Plurinational federalism allows all Canadians to participate proudly in defining and implementing a form of cohabitation that could be an answer to the modern world’s challenges, as this model is more welcoming and, because it is based on respect, more successful.

Aujourd’hui, où en est-on de la reconnaissance du caractère national du Québec?

La nation québécoise a été politiquement reconnue dans deux motions adoptées par la Chambre des communes, la plus récente en 2006.

La Cour suprême a aussi tenu pour acquis, dans sa jurisprudence, l’existence du caractère distinct du Québec. Le constitutionnaliste Sébastien Grammond résume ainsi cette reconnaissance : « [s]somme toute, les tribunaux se montrent moins hésitants que les politiciens à reconnaître le caractère distinct du Québec. »

Par ailleurs, les craintes qui ont été souvent exprimées à l’égard d’une reconnaissance formelle de la Nation québécoise n'ont pas été confirmées.

Cette reconnaissance de la Nation québécoise pourrait cependant jouir d’une assise plus solide dans le tissu constitutionnel et ainsi permettre de faire évoluer le Canada vers une conception davantage pluraliste du fédéralisme.

Une telle reconnaissance permettrait de faire en sorte que les Québécois ne se sentiraient plus exilés au sein de leur propre pays.

Pour reprendre les mots du politologue Guy Laforest : « Des Québécois qui ne seraient plus des exilés de l’intérieur devraient être capables de proclamer, à leur façon, leur allégeance envers le Canada, de s’engager dans des projets communs pour le XXIe siècle ».

Les groupes autochtones forment également des Nations diverses qui ont bénéficié de la Loi constitutionnelle de 1982 dans laquelle les droits existants — ancestraux ou issus de traités — ont été reconnus.

It is possible and even advisable for Canada to provide suitable recognition for the Québec nation and the Aboriginal nations without calling into question its unity or its ability to develop.

Canada has indeed already « raised diversity to the rank of a national value”. In addition, Canadians are open to the idea of a country in which diversity is the norm. This can and must include profound diversity, such as that evoked by Charles Taylor, namely the acceptance of a plurality of belongings.

To Will Kymlicka, and to many other authors, there is no doubt that throughout its history, Canada has in fact been a plurinational federation.

By opting for a plurality of ways of belonging, and recognition for and acceptance of national diversity, Canada can offer a partial response to current world issues.

This plan to offer the world an inclusive view of humanity, a model for living together that reduces the distances between individual and collective diversities, is an exciting project for all Canadians.

In an uncertain world, where isolation and identity withdrawal are a constant temptation, Québec and all Canadians now have an opportunity to come together again to discuss and implement a way to combine rather than oppose the plurality of their ways of belongings.

Quebecers and Canadians can offer a partial solution to the worldwide challenges of mass migration, economic displacement and growing inequality, by choosing a plurality of ways of belonging, and a diversity of nations that is recognized and accepted.

This is a major challenge, but also an exciting human project.

This will mean facing all the taboos that, for two decades now, have prevented public debates about the operation of Canadian federalism, including its constitutional aspects.

A Multiple-Step Pocess

We have to recognize that we are at the start of a long journey.

We must resume the discussion about the future of the Federation.

This includes the constitutional issue, not as the starting point, but as the result of a dialogue. A dialogue that will give shared meaning to our union and define a shared understanding of our future.

We know that this will take patience—strengthening bonds of trust is a long and gradual process. We must first discuss, share our ideas, improve our understanding and acknowledgment of each other. This is what we intend to do.

Québec therefore invites all citizens and federative partners to take part in a new dialogue, in order to renew their acquaintance.

We propose a renewed foundation.

We will begin by increasing our visible presence on the Canadian scene, making our voice heard in order to be understood.


The Policy is based on a statement of affirmation of our national identity, which is the source of the principles that will guide the conduct of Québec's Canadian relations. Québec will give priority to a proactive form of domestic diplomacy with its federative partners.

Québec will also take more care to nourish a dialogue with the representatives of civil society.

In addition, Québec will work to bring citizens closer together. Despite the label "two solitudes", relations between citizens have shaped a depth of cooperation and solidarities that has contributed to the economic, social and cultural progress of Québec and Canada. 

Québec's trade with the rest of Canada equals its trade with the United States, which has a population ten times larger:                              

We have more commercial exchanges with British Columbia than with China, and more with New Brunswick than with France.

I would like to outline another example of solidarity:

It took place on the day on which Alberta's new environmental policy was launched. The Premier of Alberta, Ms. Notley, was accompanied by Quebecer Steven Guilbault, spokesperson of Équiterre.

This was a striking illustration of the solidarity existing between environmental groups in Québec and those elsewhere in Canada, and of their contribution for new public policies.

Why not increase the number of connections?

We will encourage social and union organizations, business leaders, environmental groups, artists and researchers from Québec to begin or increase their inter-actions with people who, elsewhere in Canada, share the same desire to support the vulnerable, create employment, meet the challenge of climate change, entertain audiences, or innovate.

Québec's goal of playing a more dynamic role in Canada will also be reflected in the government administration.

Our Canadian relations will now be coordinated by the Secrétariat du Québec aux relations canadiennes. It will play a more prominent role as a strategic advisor in the area of Canadian relations. In addition, the new secretariat will work actively to create additional bridges and possibilities for dialogue within Canadian society at all levels. It is more than just relation between governments.

The government, under the SQRC’s coordination, will ensure that each of Quebec’s departments has a unit for Canadian relations.

In general, Québec will be present everywhere where its voice must be heard to project the vision and goals of its government.

It intends to increase its ties with civil society stakeholders.

We will support closer links with the university sector and economic, cultural and social interest groups, and we will be more active on traditional and social media.

In the coming months, we will define and implement concrete measures to support all these goals.

For example, annual university forum-type meetings for research institutes to discuss experiences and develop a shared understanding. 

Québec will also propose the organization of social, economic and academic missions with the other Canadian provinces, such as Ontario, our main trading partner, our neighbours the Atlantic provinces, and all the provinces and territories up to and including British Columbia, which provides access to Asia.

Of course, Québec is more determined than ever to help promote the Canadian Francophonie, working with all the governments of Canada and with Francophone and Acadian communities and will seek to increase Canada's Francophone space.

Indeed the French presence, which is increasingly recognized, seen as legitimate and wanted by a larger number of our fellow Canadians, allows us, as Quebecers, to hear an echo of a fundamental element of our identity across the country. This echo in turn contributes to developing our sense of belonging to Canada. 

The ties binding Quebecers to other Canadians must be based on a feeling of trust and must be reciprocal. This will form the basis needed for a genuine discussion about the future of our country.


Today, Québec is affirming its national identity and clearly defining the place it intends to occupy in Canada.

We are at the start of a path that should lead to greater mutual understanding. First, we must re-establish a dialogue in a spirit of openness, referring back to the idea of a kind of federalism that welcomes and recognizes both individual and collective identities.

The 150th anniversary of the Federation provides an opportunity to come together and launch a discussion. However, a lot of work will need to be done before each party can occupy its rightful place in Canada.
This will take more than one year; it takes time to build the future.

However, the objective is clear: we must seek to improve our understanding and acknowledgement of each other. And this must be reciprocal.

Affirming who we are, which is fundamental for us, will make it easier to explain our priorities, visions and plans.

For a vast majority of Quebecers, their identity is based on a double way of belonging.

An allegiance to Québec, and a sense of belonging to Canada.

This identity, our identity, no longer needs to be nourished by resentment or fear of others. Instead, it must be built on trust in ourselves and in our desire to live together. Our identity has matured and affirmed its nature.

First as French Canadians and later as Quebecers, we used to define ourselves by opposition to English Canadians or other Canadians.

Today, we prefer to affirm all the dimensions of our identity.

What we are is a reflection of the plurality of our ways of belonging, our distinct way of belonging to Quebec and our shared sense of belonging to Canada.

We are Quebecers, and this is our way of being Canadian.