For a Sovereign Quebec

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For a Sovereign Quebec

The following is an unofficial translation of an excerpt of Pour un Québec souverain, a book published by Jacques Parizeau in 1997. It is essentially a collection of of speeches pertaining to the sovereignty of Québec.


Originally, this work was supposed to be a simple collection of long excerpts of my speeches, in particular those pertaining to the sovereignty of Québec. I have evidently not written all these texts and speeches myself, although nearly all those that have to do with the economic relations between Québec and Canada were written by me. I want to thank all those people who, over the years, lent me their feather and their talent. I nevertheless jealously claim the paternity of the contents.

I gave numerous speeches, and did so for numerous years. It has appeared to me that, rather than letting an avalanche of texts be reproduced, it was better to first present, in introduction, the evolution of my ideas during all these years when I had the responsibility to push forward the cause of sovereignty and to attempt to realize it. This introduction has taken unexpected dimensions. Still, I believe that it throws a new light on the evolution of the idea of independence and allows the better understanding of it. The reader will judge.

The speeches and texts chosen here were regrouped into five chapters, each being preceded by a short introduction. Some of them were slightly retouched to satisfy to printing requirements.

The first chapter presents three texts which correspond to three steps of my reflection on the sovereignty of Québec. The first is from 1961, the second from 1967, the third, never before published, is from 1992.

The second chapter is entitled "The Road to the Referendum of 1995". It begins with the moment when the Parti Québécois took power, on September 12, 1994, and ends on the night of October 30, 1995, the referendum night. One might find strange to begin with the end in this way. All that was said, prepared, all that appears in the rest of the work and many of other things still were conditioned by the assurance that one day we would try again. "À la prochaine", René Lévesque had said. The "prochaine", was October 30. I am convinced there will be another one.

The third chapter is dedicated to the eternal question of the economic relations between Canada and Québec, to the fears, the menaces, the realities, to the manner to achieve sovereignty a the while avoiding to offer [our opponents] an opportunity for reprisal, to the way of working for the development of our little country inside a great economic space. "From the Apocalypse to Partnership": it is a little short, but is a good summary.

The fourth chapter concerns the relations between the French majority and the anglophones, the aboriginals and the allophones who, globally, do not share this majority's aspiration to sovereignty.

The last chapter, finally, deals with the international recognition of the sovereignty of Québec. As one will see in the general introduction, far from being a kind of decorative element, the diplomatic preparation of sovereignty would have been the key to its realization had the YES side won.

The conclusion of the work cannot really be one until sovereignty is achieved. That is why it should be entitled "Pour la suite des choses".

General Introduction

In October 1967, I was invited to give a conference in Banff on the never-ending problem of Canadian federalism. I was then councillor for the Premier of Québec's office. I was councillor for Jean Lesage, also for Daniel Johnson, Sr., and I would later be councillor for his successor, Jean-Jacques Bertrand.

In 1967, I was federalist; I had always been. First because, at the economic and social levels, I was centre left. Like several people then, like the liberals of Ottawa and those of Quebec City. I had however never been into active politics. Since my youth, I felt a profound repugnance for Duplessism, which, in my opinion, was the extension of a sort of a narrow clericalism weighing on Québec since the middle of the XIXth century, that is to say since the crushing of the 1837-1838 Rebellions. This mix of primitive right-wing ideas, narrow-minded linguistic nationalism, favouritism and conformism was getting on my nerves.

After returning from England, in 1955, at the end of my studies, I was looking, from my seat of professor at the École des Hautes Études Commerciales, toward Ottawa where a great social reform had been going on for ten years. The government of Ottawa had managed the economy very well during World War II. It was around that time that it started to put in place the social security nets that had been missing so badly during the Great Depression of the Thirties. Employment insurance, family allowance, universal old age pension, and medical insurance are but some of the most important reforms.

A kind of equalization was created to compensate the inequalities in the income of the provinces. Access to individual property was considerably eased by the creation of the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation. Laws against monopolies were revised. New and genuine financial tools were created.

In short, a country was being built. It was thrilling, exiting. But it did not go without its share of inconvenience. In truth, the fact of being Canadian rather than American carried a cost whose most important consequence was the very high customs tariff. The Ukrainian of Saskatchewan had difficulty understanding why his neighbour from Dakota, who had arrived in America from Ukraine around the same time that he did, paid less for his car and earned more from the selling of his wheat.

But the fact of being Canadian represented then something so precious that one gladly accepted the sacrifice. And the idea that sacrifice was necessary to be independent from the United States was so well anchored in people's minds that, when forty years later some started persuading Quebecers that they too could aspire to build a country, several remained convinced that they would have to pay a high cost, that they would have to make sacrifices, which were understood as a sort of a punishment. Yet, the context was completely changed. Free trade had extended to the whole continent, we knew that Quebec society could save several billions each year in eliminating the overlap in government services. Never, to say the truth, would it have been so advantageous for Quebec to become independent from Canada. But, among several old people, the old dogma was still there: becoming independent had a cost.

And so it is that Maurice Duplessis died in 1959. His successor, Paul Sauvé, barely had time to shaken Quebec society with his speeches (invariably starting with the words "From now on", when he also died. And the [Quebec] liberals took power in 1960. It was the beginning of the Quiet Revolution.

I enthusiastically dived into what was going on in Quebec City. Finally! The modernization of Québec would be an extraordinary task. How behind we were! Some 54% of Quebec's adult francophones had no schooling beyond the sixth grade. The State of Québec had practically no instrument to intervene [into the economy]. Almost all economic decision making centres were in the hands of interests outside the francophone community. Under-schooled, most often monolingual, not only did francophones globally had incomes sharply below those of most Anglo-Quebecers, but even members of other ethnic communities were better off than they were.

Québec, however, was full of treasures of imagination and dynamism; one only had to get to them, in the universities and the schools, in the press, in the labour unions and, yes also, a part of the clergy, among the Jesuits in particular.

Thus began the first great adventure in the "responsibilization" of Quebecers toward themselves, as part of a very modern intellectual framework, with great naivety perhaps, but with enthusiasm and with a faith capable of moving mountains: the education reform, the first attempt at planning "à la française", the great instruments of intervention into the economy, the creation of social security measures, keeping an eye on the unemployment rate, in a time when the expression "full employment" was no laughing matter. "Who educates himself enriches himself", could we read on the advertising signs along the roads.

For me and several others, Daniel Johnson's arrival to power in 1966, him, the successor of Maurice Duplessis, was a real catastrophe. The right was back in power. But after one month, we realized that it was not the case. The movement that had started was too powerful. It continued.

But here I was in October 1967. I was on my way to give a conference in Banff. I had so much work to do in the weeks preceding the conference that I did not have time to write my speech or even to think about it. And so I took the train for the West telling myself that, during the three-day long travel onboard the train, I would have the peace and the time to prepare myself.

I hopped on the train. I remember... in the background the never-ending forests of the North of Ontario. Cycling through my head were all the projects accomplished during the Quiet Revolution: the rise of the Québec State, the phases of its expansion, the assaults on Ottawa to get the central government to give up its exclusive stronghold over all the real powers and the fiscal system, which it had taken control of during World War II, the establishment of our first direct relations abroad, and thanks to General de Gaulle, with the countries of the Francophonie in particular.

A few months before this trip to Banff, I had presented at the Quai d'Orsay, in Paris, in the name of the government of Québec, a plan to participate to the launching of the Franco-German communication satellites called Symphonie. They would be launched from Russian rockets (while waiting for the French Ariane rocket to be ready). Meanwhile, Canada was negotiating its participation to the launching of satellites, principally with the United States, but also with Great Britain and Japan.

I was proud of myself. At the same time, I was uncomfortable. Would Quebecers really pay themselves two satellite-based communication systems? Québec no doubt had the dynamism and the financial resources to open up new, creative and stimulating paths. It remained that, however federalist we were, we were in the process of undermining the capacity of Ottawa to be a true government.

One way to maintain a certain cohesion in the government policies of a federation is to rely on shared programs. The central government agrees to assume let's say 50% of the expenses for the construction of a highway so long as the States or Provinces making up the country agree to the road plan and minimal construction standards and requirements. It is obvious that in such a country some States or Provinces are going to be richer than others. Equalization payments are used by the central government to spread the expenses according to the respective wealth of the States or Provinces. In the case of a highway for example, the central government can decide that its contribution will be lower for States said to be rich and higher for States said to be poor.

No doubt, States or Provinces have their own taxation system, but there must be a way to coordinate the use of the money being perceived. If the central government lowers its tax level to try to stimulate the economy, the other level of government must not take advantage of this to raise its own.

In some federations, only the central government can have a deficit concerning its current transactions. The governments of the provinces can only borrow for long-term assets. It is also the case sometime that only the central State can borrow money abroad. Everywhere one tries to coordinate great public investments to avoid that, during a period of inflation, all governments invest at the same time.

In Canada, under the repeated assault of Québec, pretty much all coordination mechanisms were broken. Jean Lesage withdrew Québec from 29 shared programmes in one strike and with full fiscal and financial compensation. The equalization was generous and unconditional. Each province, in the field of direct taxation, began taxing at their own will. Each province also borrowed at their own will. Great investors (transportation and hydro-electric corporations, for example) did not communicate at all.

All of that was to end badly. At the time, I had not yet understood to what extent such a chaos was likely to result in shameful waste of public funds, as the two levels of government began outbidding each other for the same electors, which brought an insane duplication of programmes and services and, consequently, the increase of our expenses.

I did not also predict the fact that the federal government would stiffen up so quickly after the election of Pierre Trudeau as primer minister [of Canada]. But I felt that, sooner or later, each of Quebecers' governments would hinder if not prevent the work of the other.

A people, a nation, a country, must have a government, a real one. In a federation, the central government must be able to define orientations and policies according to precise objectives and it must assure that it has the means to execute them. In all federations, this is well understood.

Listing the powers that Québec should accept to grant Ottawa to allow the later to efficiently fight unemployment, poverty, inflation, I told myself that one would never find a political party in Québec that would consent to it. And one would continued to denounce Ottawa, to attack it, to complain.

If, for Quebecers, it is inconceivable that their real government be in Ottawa, it should then only be in Québec City!

The first few phrases of my conference in Banff still reflected a federalist point of view. The long technical analysis I was drafting while crossing the Prairies took me out of the intellectual yoke that has been mine for so many years. When I arrived in the Rockies, the conclusion fell, inescapable: at the bottom of it, Québec would perhaps just become independent.

I became sovereignist to make it so that a true government be in place in a true country, a country where people would be responsible for themselves and where its leaders could not offload their responsibilities on one another.

I became sovereignist because I saw that the sovereignty of Québec was one of two possible avenues, but the only one possible to assure the growth of employment and the economy, the equality of chances among the citizens, a good social security net truly protecting them against the risks of life, and without these protections being the object of a ruinous competition between two governments courting the same electors.


Three Steps of My Reflection

  • Introduction
  • "The ideal of separatism is not necessarily absurd, in the economic order, but the obstacles would be numerous and redoutable", in Le Devoir, November 24, 1961.
  • "Québec-Canada: in total cul-de-sac", conference given in Banff, on October 17, 1967
  • "Sovereignty, a modern idea", unpublished text, 1992.

The Road to the Referendum of 1995

  • Introduction
  • "A Long Democratic Tradition", National Assembly, on December 17, 1991.
  • "One Must First Be Himself", unpublished text, 1992.
  • "The Opposite of Withdrawing into Oneself", press conference, on September 14, 1994.
  • "A Clear and Responsible Approach", National Assembly, on November 29, 1994.
  • "The Winter of Speech", on March 22, 1995
  • "Faithful to the Word", National Assembly, on April 19, 1995.
  • "The Spring of Sovereignty", Québec, on May 27, 1995.
  • "The Flame of a Proud People", Montréal, on June 13, 1995.
  • "The Hope Motivating Us", Montréal, on August 26, 1995.
  • "The Project of a Great Coalition", Québec, on September 6, 1995
  • "The Long Quest for Equality", National Assembly, on September 11, 1995
  • "The Impasse of Canadian Federalism", National Assembly, on September 20, 1995
  • "Deciding to Take Matters into Our Own Hands", Québec, on October 1st, 1995
  • "A Constitution Denying Our Existence", speech at Montmagny, on October 3, 1995
  • "A Few Voices Away from Victory", National Council of the Parti Québécois, on October 7, 1995
  • "The Necessary Step Toward Sovereignty", on October 7, 1995
  • "A Project for the Youth", Montréal, on October 17, 1995
  • "Refusing the Status of a Minority People", Québec, on October 22, 1995
  • "Respecting the Democratic Decision", on October 29, 1995
  • "On se crache dans les mains et on recommence", night of October 30, 1995
  • "The Final Frontier to Overcome", declaration following the referendum, on October 31, 1995
  • "Nothing Will be Given to Us", on December 9, 1995
  • "Who Are We? Where Are We Going?" , in Le Devoir, on October 30, 1996
  • "Sooner or Later, Quebec Will be a Country", conference at the Upper Canada College, Toronto, on February 18, 1997

The Economic Question: From the Apocalypse to Partnership

  • Introduction
  • "Lowering Taxes, Managing Well and Achieving Sovereignty", before the National Assembly, on March 27, 1979.
  • "The Requirements of the Modern Economy", Québec, Montréal, on April 9, 1992
  • "The Prosperity of Québec Beyond Sovereignty", Montréal, on December 11, 1991
  • "The Economic Relations between a Sovereign Québec and Canada", Toronto, on December 11, 1990
  • "If Quebecers Want to Keep the Canadian Dollar, They Keep It", Toronto, on March 19, 1993
  • "Being Able to Move", Montréal, on November 15, 1994
  • "Open For Business", New York, on December 12, 1994
  • "The Quebec Question: The Case for a Sovereign Quebec", in Foreign Policy, April 1995
  • "The Public Finances of a Sovereign Quebec", Montréal, on October 20, 1995.
  • "An Obstacle to Our Plans and Our Dreams: The Federal Ball and Chain", Montréal, on December 1st, 1995

The Anglophones, Allophones and Aboriginals before sovereignty

  • Introduction
  • "Pierre Trudeau and the Deportation of the Anglophones", Montréal, on October 9, 1991
  • "Do Not Make Words Say What They Do Not Say", Declaration, in Montréal, on February 3, 1993.
  • "Preserving the Cultural Richness of the Diversity of Origins in a Sovereign Quebec", speech before the regional plenary assembly of the Canadian Jewish Congress, section Quebec", Montréal, on April 24, 1994
  • "A United and Tolerant Québec", before the Armenian community, Montréal, on October 23, 1995
  • "Neither Racist nor Xenophobic", speech given at the Centre hellénique communautaire, Montréal, on April 13, 1994
  • "The proposal to the Montagnais and Attikameks", at the occasion of a meeting of the Montagnais and Attikamek leaders, Beaupré, on October 28, 1994.
  • "Autonomous Aboriginal Nations in a Sovereign Québec souverain", National Assembly, on April 25, 1995

The International Recognition of a Sovereign Québec

  • Introduction
  • "The Conditions of our International Recognition are Met", Montréal, on January 23, 1992
  • Speech before the French National Assembly, Paris, on Tuesday January 24, 1995
  • "The Opening to the Francophonie", before the Conseil permanent de la francophonie, Paris, on January 24, 1995.
  • "Sovereignty and Universality", at the Institut France-Amérique, Paris, on January 27, 1995.
  • "Friends at the head of France", before the Assemblée nationale, on May 9, 1995.
  • "Our Place in the Family of Nations", conference given at Royal Institute of International Affairs, London, on July 5, 1995
  • "A Nation of Traders", Québec, on August 7, 1995
  • "Vive le Québec libre: A Phrase in the Life of a People", Institut Charles-de-Gaulle, Paris, on June 14, 1996.


I tried, with this book to sketch the main steps of the second chapter of the march of Quebec toward its independence. The first chapter was written by René Lévesque, obviously. Preceded by a brilliant introduction from Pierre Bourgault and his Rassemblement pour l'indépendance nationale, it started in 1967 and ended in 1980 with the [first] referendum. It was followed by a long interlude focused on the remarkable recovery of Québec, following the short but violent recession that struck North America. This episode was also marked by a severe detour off course on the constitutional front. But it is of no consequence. René Lévesque gave Quebecers the taste for the country, a pride to be themselves that will never blur.

The second chapter opened in 1988. It lasted until the second referendum, on October 30, 1995. It encompasses five important events: the failure of the Meech Lake Accord in 1990 and its aftermath, the Bélanger-Campeau commission; the victory of the sovereignists in the 1992 referendum on the "second chance" to Canadian federalism, the Charlottetown Accord; then, the victory of the sovereignists at the federal election of 1993, when the Bloc Québécois took two thirds of the seats Québec has in the House of Commons; after that, the Parti Québécois took power in 1994; finally, the 1995 referendum to achieve the sovereignty of Québec was lost by little, but the support of francophones would be, finally, clearly that of the majority.

In the background of this second chapter, occurred the strongest and longest recession that the Western World experienced since World War II; only the United States managed to get out of it rapidly. Almost everywhere, on both sides of the Atlantic, people had to conciliate a weak growth, with reducing deficits and creating employment.

It was a huge testimony of the vitality of the idea of sovereignty among our people, that neither the real economic situation of Quebec nor the apprehended situation after sovereignty could temper the enthusiasm of Quebec francophones, in particular among the youths.

At the moment of writing these lines, the mourning period is over. The third chapter has begun. It will not be a simple continuation of the second one, no more then the second was a continuation of the first.

I will not be responsible of elaborating the draft of this new chapter. I should neither even attempt to suggest one. One can, for a little while still, let certain decisions on hold to examine divers possibilities and hypotheses. But we should immediately begin the work to come up with a strategy.

When one came so close to achieving the goal, one does not have the right to let any sacred cow roam loose. Everything must be reevaluated, scrutinized, being guided by two fundamental ideas: the main objective is to achieve sovereignty and the means to achieve it must be conformable to our democratic convictions and our parliamentary traditions.

Beyond those two fundamental principals, everything must be revised coldly. It is not because, since a quarter of a century, we saw or promise the same thing that it must be repeated again for twenty-five more years. The important is to keep our mind open and not to loose sight of the objective.

And God knows that it is easy to loose sight of it while in power. Managing, administering, pushing dossiers forward, all of that is fascinating. The exercise of power can quickly become a trap for sovereignists. Québec has, over the years, gained or exercised so many powers that one can have the illusion that we have there all we need to transform our society in accord with our convictions and the programme of our political party. It takes some time to realize that in the exercise of power, Québec enjoys a freedom under the surveillance of Ottawa. Only one action from the federal government, the modification of a law, a regulation, a transfer, can disorganize our own programmes.

Obviously, to be left in peace and decently organize at least a part of government activities, the temptation consists in staying away from the grey areas, where the federal jurisdictions start. Between four walls around a vast square of land, one can be happy if one only cultivates a beautiful garden, and likewise unhappy if one wants to be a mason and wish to cut windows open in the walls. Garder or mason? We can do both. We must do both.

If we are satisfied with gardening, our eyes looking down on the ground, it is so easy to loose sight of what is all around us.

At the March 1996 reunion that prepared the economic summit of autumn, all participants had agreed that the government of Québec should completely eliminate the deficit without raising taxes. The cuts of the spending during the autumn of 1996 and the winter of 1997 proved extremely difficult, as we know. When it was over, the reduction of expenses for the budget year of 1997-1998 was equal to the reduction of the transfer payments from the federal government to the government of Québec. It was barely mentioned. Yet... Many people are proud to have achieved such reductions without overturning the social peace. To get there, felicitation and consensus had to be built. The gardening was done, if we can say, in depth.

Obviously, if the YES had won on October 30, 1995, we would have had our hands on all our taxes and the federal government would have kept its transfers. We would thus have gained resources whose product rises every year in exchange for resources whose product is going downward. That is good mason work.

The objective is the construction of a country. Which is not to say that the sovereignists are bad managers or are less rigorous. On the contrary, but they can be made, on some dossiers, to manage differently.

As it was periodically in the past, we will need to reexamine the framework of relations between a sovereign Québec and Canada. First is was the association, then the partnership. Will there be a third formula? Maybe it is not necessary.

We are still protected by our engagement to keep the Canadian dollar and we will be participating, we hope, to the extension of the free trade area we already have. There will be no going back. And the partnership is a flexible formula to define the kind of economic relations Quebecers wish to have with Canada, until eventually Canadians let us know what they think.

The economic consequences of every decision were for several years studied, weighted, debated until we reached the ultimate and final conclusion: if we administer things not to stupidly, the results will not be too bad... We had to go through this step. I am not certain that this step will be retaken in the third chapter. In any case, I do not wish for it.

Quebec society must come back, on economic and social questions, to fundamental debates troubling our time. How do we achieve full employment? How do we assure equality of chances for the youth? How to we avoid that a part of society sinks into a poverty trap from where it cannot escape? How do we balance the development of our regions with that of our metropolis? Now that there are no real economic barriers, how do we assure, within Quebec society, control and expansion of a sufficient number of economic and financial decision-making centres? And what does "sufficient" mean?

Of course, one can approach these questions without running against the political structures of the Canadian federal system. We have dedicated so much time and energy to try to get out of these structures, we have wasted so much trying to imagine the awful or happy consequences of a political regime change that reflexion of the true questions did not progress enough. It is to that purpose, in my opinion, that the third chapter should serve: to reflect, within government and administration of course, but also within the whole society, upon possible solutions and means to adapt our society to the lancinating problems characterizing the end of this century

Sooner of later, Québec will be independent. The sooner the better.

Since then, we must avoid being carried into new political debates that surely had to be held, but whose prospects have all been exhausted. The premiers of the nine other provinces and the federal government have modified the constitution in 1982. Since fifteen years now, Québec refuses to ratify the result. These same premiers later agreed to proposals meant to bring Québec with the constitutional deal, before repudiating their engagement under the pressure of English-Canadian public opinion. Finally, in 1992 they proposed a constitutional transformation for Québec without a doubt, but also for all of Canada. Québec reject the proposal... so did Canada for that matter.

Enough! When we think of all the changes that occurred in the world since 1982 and especially since 1990, in fact, one cannot but deplore the loss of time and admire the persistance of hope.

Yet the message is clear: accept the situation as it is, the statu quo, or get out. Well, let's get out!


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