From La Presse
My Vision of Quebec Within Canada
October 24, 2007
I want to become Prime Minister of Canada to help our country become richer, fairer and greener.
My intent is to strengthen our economy by eradicating our productivity and innovation deficit, investing in research and development and infrastructures, and making our tax system more competitive.
I will launch an unprecedented offensive to combat poverty by helping one million children escape its bonds, taking steps to ensure that our aging society provides better care for our most disadvantaged seniors, eliminating the barriers that prevent too many women, Aboriginal people and newcomers from unleashing their full potential.
I will do all I can to help a greener Canada tackle the most important task of our era, which is to adjust our lifestyle to what our natural environment is able to support. We must meet the challenges of sustainable development and become champions of the fight against climate change.
These are ambitious objectives, which we can meet thanks to a united Liberal Party of Canada, and with significant support from every part of the country, including - and I dare say especially - Quebec. Almost all the great and influential achievements in the history of Canada happened because many Quebecers invested their energy, talents and culture within the Liberal Party of Canada.
For our country to become truly richer, fairer and greener, there has to be a meeting of minds and hearts between Quebecers and the leadership I represent. I will not miss my "rendez-vous" with Quebecers.
As a child of the quiet revolution, with the deep roots I have in Quebec, I have always been deeply attached to our culture and self-made institutions. I defended Canadian unity but refused to diminish provincial autonomy. It is perfectly possible and coherent to believe that Canada must remain decentralized to function well. That is why, like so many other Quebecers, I supported the Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords. I was a passionate advocate for provincial powers In Cabinet, as many of my Cabinet colleagues have attested.
One of my major accomplishments as Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs was the Clarity Act. This is meant to prevent a separatist government from attempting to secede by making believe that this is what Quebecers want even though there is no such will. The Act is in the best interests of all Quebecers, including sincere and convinced separatists. An action as serious as secession must not be undertaken in a state of confusion. When Ms. Marois says that she will only hold a referendum after Quebecers are convinced they are ready for independence, she respects the spirit of the Clarity Act. Of course, she will never admit that.
At a time when there is heated debate in Quebec about the place of religion in public institutions, it is worth remembering that in 1997, I guided the constitutional reforms that made it possible to secularize Quebec school boards. Lise Bissonnette, who was editor in chief of Le Devoir at the time, wrote that the only thing that made these reforms possible was my determination. Here again I cared deeply about Quebec's interests, and my view of the situation was the same as that of the vast majority of Quebecers.
I believe, as many do, that federal spending power plays a useful role in social progress but that it needs to be framed so as to respect the provinces and promote partnership with them. In 1999, I was instrumental in establishing the rule according to which the federal government can transfer funds to provincial governments in their areas of sole jurisdiction: this can only be done based on jointly decided objectives to which a majority of the provinces have agreed, and on the understanding that a province that has already met these objectives can spend the federal transfer in a related field. This right to withdraw with full compensation is applicable to all federal transfers to provincial governments in their areas of jurisdiction. It goes much farther than the feeble commitment made by the Conservatives in their recent Speech from the Throne, which would apply only to cost-shared programs, which are becoming obsolete.
Indeed, no federal politician has ever placed tighter restrictions on the federal spending power than I have. And I managed to do so without reducing its usefulness as a force for social progress. For example, the governments of our federation had agreed in 2005 to create a federal child care transfer. Because Quebec already had a more highly developed network of child care centres than elsewhere in Canada, the Quebec government decided to use the funds in areas related to early childhood. Unfortunately, Mr. Harper cancelled the agreement, depriving Quebec and the other provinces of hundreds of millions of dollars that would otherwise have gone to our children and our families.
I have always advocated strong Equalization, a solidarity principle enshrined in the Constitution that gives the less wealthy provinces, including Quebec, the opportunity to provide their people with services comparable to those in the wealthier provinces. All Mr. Harper has done is to implement a reform that was initiated by the Martin government; but in implementing it, he broke a promise he had made to a number of provinces. I have always kept my word. I will always say the same thing to every province. I respect them too much to do otherwise.
I have always been a passionate advocate for the cause of French - in Quebec, elsewhere in Canada, and around the world. A long time ago, I wrote that Bill 101 was a great Canadian statute, a statement for which I am still being criticized in certain circles, but in which I still believe. I drafted a plan to promote official languages, which is still called the Dion Plan in Francophone communities outside Quebec. As Prime Minister, I promise to come up with another Dion plan.
For many years, I have maintained that we Quebecers are a nation, by which I mean a community that is proud of its own identity. Mr. Harper's office consulted me before a resolution was put forward in the House of Commons last November to recognize Quebec as a nation. I voted in favour of the resolution, but my vote was accompanied by a proviso warning people about some aspects of Mr. Harper's political manoeuvring.
The English version of his resolution said "the Québécois form a nation". This suggests an ethnic definition of a nation, that does not include all inhabitants of Quebec, whereas the French wording does not mean the same. It was clearly a attempt to allow Conservative and Bloc politicians to interpret the resolution and comment on it in their own different ways, which of course they did. This kind of political manoeuvring is not in the interest of Canadians and it deserves our disapproval. My Quebec nation includes all inhabitants of Quebec.
We Quebecers, together with other Canadians, have succeeded in building a federation that is the envy of many countries experiencing ethnic, religious, linguistic or other forms of conflict. In 1999, I established the Forum of Federations to enable federations around the world to understand and help one another. I am proud of the contribution of Quebecers like Gil Rémillard, who contributed significantly to making the Forum of Federations a success.
Those who know me well know that I have held these positions for a long time. I am firmly attached to Quebec's identity and to Canada's unity. I believe that there is a Quebec nation, but also think that politicians need to stop playing with words to mislead citizens about what this means. And I believe that all governments in our federation need to work together, while showing full respect for each other's respective areas of jurisdiction.
These are unequivocal positions that closely match the clear interests of the vast majority of Canadians, including our interests as Quebecers. For Canada to truly become richer, fairer and greener, I as a proud Quebecer know just how important it is for Quebecers to be included. We will succeed in this, for ourselves, our children and future generations. I will do everything in my power to achieve it.