Speech of the Premier of Quebec, Mr. Lucien Bouchard, before the Anglophone community of Quebec

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Speech of the Premier of Quebec, Mr. Lucien Bouchard, before the Anglophone community of Quebec
March 12, 1996




Parts of Premier Lucien Bouchard's speech to Anglophones: March 12, 1996



(Tonight is) the first time a premier of Quebec has extended an invitation to such a broad segment of Quebec's anglophone community.

What better place to do so than here in the Centaur Theatre ...? Here in this very room, French and English Montrealers sat side by side, laughed and were moved, by one of the most popular plays this city has ever seen: Balconville by David Fennario. You know it well: it's about a group of Montrealers in Point St. Charles, French and English-speaking, who disagree about politics but are bound together by their shared experiences of life ...

Why create this first? Well, because this is the first time all of us lived through a watershed event, that of Oct. 30. Somehow we know that never again will things be quite the same.

I understand that emotions in the anglophone community ran very high on that night and are still running unabated. Many feel that the unthinkable is now possible ... Some are angry at the federalist leaders.

More importantly, many are preoccupied about their future ... I hope there is more rumor than substance behind stories about people "going liquid" or preparing to move out, (but) the fact is that these options are present in the minds of many anglophone Quebecers. That alone is cause for concern, for all Quebecers and for me personally ...

Since Oct. 30, we've left behind our old certainties, our old forum if you like, and we have to get used to a new one. It's not as simple as it seems. The ice is not yet completely solid. We have to create a new atmosphere. We have to hold on to all of our regulars and bring in new faces as well.

I don't know if politics is a metaphor for hockey, or if it's the other way around. But I know that the road from words to acts, from intentions to achievement, has to start somewhere ... I know full well that to have a dialogue, more than one person has to speak. But someone has to make the first move. That's why I'm here ...

I'm not here tonight to make promises. I haven't brought a shopping list ...

(But) I'm very much aware of your concerns about the reforms to our health-care services in Montreal and Quebec City; about enrolment in schools and the need for a greater input in school curricula; about cash-strapped cultural institutions; about the desertion of rural Quebec by English youth.

What strikes me is that most of these problems are similar to those of the French majority ... we all need a commitment to arrive at consensus. One thing I can say, for instance, is that linguistic school boards is an idea whose time has come.

As you know, I am not a native Montrealer and where I come from, anglophone Quebecers are few and far between. But in the six years I have been living here I have acquired a better understanding of how linguistic and cultural diversity make our metropolis vibrant and unique ...

Someone drew my attention to an essay by the writer Joyce Marshall, about her native Quebec ... She writes: "I am attached to the rocks and the river and certain corners of the Eastern Townships; they're as much part of me as my arms and legs - but what I really love, what I honestly feel I couldn't live without, is that other strand, the rub and bite of difference that keeps us alert and alive."

If we're looking for shared values between Quebecers, a number of them come immediately to mind: parliamentary democracy, equality, freedom of expression, pluralism, a taste for each other's culture, a somewhat greater sense of fun than most of our neighbors. Yet when we look for the one thing that really binds us, that sets us apart from any other group on the planet, it is our attachment to Quebec. On a continent where, more and more, every place looks and feels the same, we are blessed with a metropolis, a capital and regions that don't look or feel or sound like any other place. What makes the difference is ... our people, our communities: primarily a francophone majority, an anglophone community and the interplay between them.

On the political front, we know that when progressive anglophones and francophones join forces, we are at our very best. One particular joint endeavor, a historic dare, comes to mind. The election of Jean Lesage in 1960 came about through the votes of a coalition of progressive anglophones and francophones ... It was something we did together. Something that changed our lives, for the better.

I can think of another joint effort. I spent two years of my life defending the Meech Lake accord, through some pretty rough waters, in town halls across English Canada. Some of the waves were stirred up by a former prime minister of Canada and by the current one. But there was a safe harbor back then for people like me. Quebec's anglophone community was a solid ally throughout what we called "le beau risque."

Later, to be sure, not all of us agreed on the Charlottetown accord. But ... we should all remember that when Quebecers, led by federalists of good will, pushed for recognition of Quebec's difference within the federation, almost all of Quebec's anglophone community answered the call ...

Today, though, I understand there is on the contrary a sense of helplessness. On the one hand, anglo-Quebecers feel that they aren't being heard or are poorly represented in Ottawa ... on the other hand they feel left out of the debates going on within the sovereignty movement. That's a position which is both uncomfortable and frustrating.

Obviously I could tell you about various attempts by sovereignists to be more inclusive. Last year, for instance, when we invited all Quebecers to take part in the Commissions on the Future of Quebec ... very little constructive work was done on issues relating specifically to your community. I fully understand that if you take part in designing a better blueprint for sovereignty, sovereignty itself becomes more likely ... Yet you see we're placed in a difficult position too: left to care for your concerns but without your participation.

I'm not sure it could have been otherwise. Four times in the past four years, majorities of both groups have gone in opposite directions at the ballot box. It would be foolish to deny that.

As a sovereignist leader, I can tell you I find nothing surprising in the fact that a great number of anglophones would vote to remain in the federation where they have more friends and family, more economic ties, more shared history, a shared language and a far keener sense of belonging than do most francophone Quebecers. It was perfectly legitimate that they did so. Now obviously, I myself will never stop trying to convince more anglophone Quebecers to join the sovereignty movement.

We in Quebec pride ourselves on being democrats, and with good reason. Democracy means that every single vote, the vote of every individual, is not only legitimate, it is welcome.

I have no illusions about our ability to bridge the gap on the question of Quebec's political future. And I hope that once that debate is behind us, anglophones and francophones alike will be able to forge new alliances, from left to right to green, right across the political spectrum.

When that happens we will be able to echo Jean Lesage and recruit as cabinet ministers two, three, four members of the anglophone community; we'll be able to draw from the pool of talent and dedication found there.

Some would suggest that the solution is to simply forget about sovereignty. In Quebec that would be tantamount to saying: Forget about hoping for spring! ... So there's no quick fix to our predicament. We know that at some point in the future, we will once again enter this great debate.

Until then, however, we must all take steps to forge the bonds between us. In a sense, looking beyond our differences and without denying them, we must be mindful of our social fabric, and work to make it strong enough to sustain whatever tension the future might hold.

As a francophone, I am deeply troubled when I hear that anglophone neighbors on the street next to mine have such a deep fear of living in a country called Quebec that they would prefer to erect ethnic boundaries.

We all know that partition shifts our differences from the democratic plane to another one, one that is much more disturbing. I am heartened to read and hear about efforts by other Montrealers, very staunch federalists in fact, who are instead reaffirming their faith in our shared ability to live through the changes to come as members of the same unique society.

In a recent column, Josh Freed pointed out that in the partitionists' dream, Schwartz's would be on the French side of "Checkpoint Charlie." That's a compelling argument against partition if ever I saw one! Freed correctly noted that "the thing that makes Montreal special is the mix of French, English, and other people, sharing the streets as warmly as any place on Earth. If we lose that mix, it won't be the same city any more ... Anglophones won't have to leave Montreal," he wrote, "Montreal will leave us." And I agree with his conclusion: I'm not sure the partitionists would like to live in the place they're trying to create.

As a sovereignist, and as a premier of Quebec, I believe I have a responsibility to reaffirm our solemn commitment to preserve the rights of the anglophone community, now and in a sovereign Quebec. Control over schools, colleges and universities, access to the courts and government in English, availability of health and social services in English, public broadcasting in English. If there is a will to do so in the anglophone community, before the next referendum we can see how they should be entrenched in the constitution of a sovereign Quebec. That, to my mind, is the very best insurance policy.

Now this is not a question of reassuring non-francophones. Rather, it's a question of being clear and straightforward about life after a Yes vote. When I was a federal cabinet minister, I was responsible for the Official Languages Act. I had to lend support to francophone minorities in the West ... the most painful battle was trying to help francophones who had no access to health services in their own language. Some of these people had to live out their last days in institutions where the staff around them couldn't understand a word they said. I'll be honest. It made me angry. And I want to say here today, with all the energy I can muster, that never, ever, will there be in Quebec anything remotely resembling that kind of situation.

Both the anglo community and the individuals who make it up have rights, they have institutions, dignity, and strength that the government of Quebec will protect and preserve. Both for its own sake, and as an example for other minorities in North America. When you go to a hospital, and you're in pain, you may need a blood test; but you certainly don't need a language test. The federal government can also take a few steps along the path of responsibility. I'm glad to hear that talk about the use of force is disappearing from the federal discourse. Wiser heads have prevailed.

As a former negotiator by trade, I can tell you that when disagreements arise that seem at first to be irreconcilable, there is a whole storehouse of mediation and arbitration methods, of cooling-off periods, and national and international settlement mechanisms ... We are a nation that for a long time was made up of teachers, merchants and lawyers. I have no doubt that we will find within ourselves the means to come to reasonable, peaceful solutions. For us Quebecers, there is simply no other way.

Unfortunately, some damage has already been done. And if we are not careful further damage could come about. We know that the new federal minister for immigration has been looking at ways to ensure that after sovereignty, Canadian citizens living in Quebec and who wish to remain Canadian citizens would be denied that possibility. I very much doubt this is feasible. But if it were, it would be a ruthless move that would fuel the anguish of the very Quebecers who are most attached to Canada. Quite bluntly, in the name of "peace, order, and good government," Ottawa would be wise to abandon such a short-sighted policy.

A step that both sovereignists and federalists can take is to be more careful in what we say and do, be more mindful of each other's beliefs and symbols. Here in Quebec that shouldn't be difficult, since we all know perfectly well that neither sovereignty nor federalism is a Satanic cult ...

I am well aware that Canada is a very real country for the people in this room and right across Canada - I wish I'd been more careful in the way I phrased a remark I made in January. I did a little better the next day when I said there are two real countries here. But I'm still working on it ... It should be known that the Quebec nationalism that we are building no longer defines itself as that of French-Canadians, but as that of all Quebecers; it no longer seeks homogeneity but it embraces diversity and pluralism; it no longer focuses on political aims alone, but is now also concerned with social and cultural issues that bind us all ...

There are quite a few things we on both sides can do to get through the next referendum: we can be clear and fair about the rights of Quebec citizens following a Yes; we can avoid unduly interfering with our fellow citizens' sense of identity; we can approach all disagreements with a clear willingness to resolve them through negotiation and deliberation; we can use strong arguments in debates, yes, but always showing respect for individuals and their beliefs ...

The first thing I want to say is that both my government and I are responsible for each and every Quebecer, regardless of his or her language, religion, origin, color or belief. In forming my cabinet, I tried to find ways to assert that responsibility in a more forceful way.

First, as you know, we created the job of minister for the metropolis - Montreal. Serge Ménard has the task of championing the cause of Montrealers. To do that, he has to be in tune with their diversity. Mr. Ménard informs me that the important commission he will set up this year will have as one of its two key decision-makers an influential representative of Montreal's anglophone community. That commission will be a new and powerful body where francophone and anglophone Quebecers can work together ...

Second, we have created the position of minister for relations with citizens. That was our way of expressing our belief in the equality of all citizens, while working harder to foster intercultural relations between citizens ... I chose someone from the new generation, André Boisclair ...

In my own office, I have asked Joseph Facal, MNA from Laval, a former leader of my party's youth wing, and someone who cannot be perceived as being "de souche," to be another of my advisers from the younger generation, to serve as parliamentary assistant.

I'd like to say a few words about the dynamism of Quebec's youth. In Montreal these last years, young francophones and anglophones have been defying the gloom and doom of elders by engaging in new and intense activity. Three free-thinking weeklies now chronicle today's cross-cultural Montreal. From the jazz festival to Softimage, from Youth in Motion, which helps black teenagers in N.D.G., to Forum Québec, which brings together ambitious French and English-speaking professionals, these young Quebecers are not about to give up on their dreams, and on their dream city.

... I have asked David Payne to be my personal parliamentary assistant ... he will be one of my gateways into Quebec's anglophone community ...

As you can see, I have tried as much as possible to deploy a good set of antennae into non-francophone Quebec and to empower the Montreal area itself.

The under-representation of anglophones in the public sector is a very real problem. I am very glad, however, that anglophone appointments to government bodies are more numerous than before. Gretta Chambers, Charles Taylor, Gary Caldwell, Judith Newman, Michael Fainstat, Daphna Castel, Larkin Kerwin, Ann MacLaren, Bill Schabbas, Richard French and dozens of others have been appointed in recent years to important bodies ... (Such) appointments should become routine.

I'd like to take a moment to salute the appointment of Judge Alan B. Gold to investigate possible irregularities during the last referendum ... I know the anglophone community has been particularly concerned about the number of rejected ballots in some Montreal-area ridings. As you know, we moved promptly to approve a redesigned ballot ... I'm glad it was in my riding of Jonquière that, on Feb. 19, we tested the new ballot on which the voter's intention leaves no room for creative interpretation, with only one per cent of ballots rejected. That's the kind of clarity we'll have in the next vote, in every riding.

Our ability to bring more anglophones into decision-making positions stems from the fact that more anglophone Quebecers than ever before are not only bilingual but bi-literate. And though I say "more than ever," I know many parents would like it to be truer still. By the same token, francophone parents and students throughout Quebec are demanding better teaching of English ...

Already, as you know, in all of North America, Quebec is the area that has the greatest proficiency in a second language. We must make sure we hold on to the economic edge this gives us ...

In Quebec and in the metropolis, French is our official and common language. It is unique, but it is not alone. Nothing pleases me more than to know that a great many Quebecers, if they so chose, have the ability to enjoy at least two major cultures, in their original versions.

Something else about today's Quebec that makes me happy is that we've left behind some old hang-ups about the second language. It's becoming hard nowadays to find an anglo who feels it's beneath him to learn and to speak French. Just as it's becoming hard to find a bilingual francophone nationalist who doesn't welcome opportunities to practice his or her English. We all applaud when Harry Standjofski lands a starring role in a popular téléroman or when Céline Dion has another hit, whether in English in L.A. or in French in Paris.

It wasn't always like this. What has happened, I think, is that linguistic tolerance has sneaked up on us while we were busy with Meech, Charlottetown, and the referendum. We were too busy debating to celebrate it.

Now I would like to share with you some of my thoughts on the language question ... In my opinion, in the language debate Quebec's two major linguistic groups have graduated from the era of upheavals and have entered an era of mutual interest ...

Sustaining the French language in North America will always be a challenge; it will always need close attention. Sustaining French in the Montreal area will always be an even greater challenge. Last year, we expressed concern about the decline in the proportion of francophone families living on the island of Montreal. If, as some demographers predict, francophone households become a minority within a few decades, that would seriously hamper Montreal's already limited ability to integrate a clear majority of newcomers into the francophone mainstream. Obviously, having French as the official and common language in Quebec and in the metropolis is essential.

But no matter how you slice it, in the end it's not those for whom French is a second language who do the integrating of allophones; it's those whose first language is French.

If French were to lose critical mass in Montreal, that would be detrimental to all. Does this mean that the anglophone community should shrink? Of course not. That too would tilt the tables. I firmly believe that having a vibrant anglophone community is in the best interests of Quebec, especially as far as the quality of Montreal's economic and cultural life is concerned ...

What we have here is a democratic society working through a very difficult and unique problem, and arriving in a sense at a shared accomplishment, over time and in a politically bipartisan fashion. We've come a long way. A long way. And that's something to be proud of. We have here now, in a sense, a Francophonie. Close to 95 per cent of Quebecers can carry on a conversation in French. Accents vary. For most it's a first language, for others it's their second or third. But this is in itself, quite a feat ...

(Montreal) is and shall be a North American francophone metropolis, with an essential English-speaking component that shapes its history, its character, its culture and its future. A francophone metropolis that is the heartbeat of modern Quebec and thrives on a mixture of cultures and styles.

I will stop short of saying it is world class. We will leave that to our neighbors. But we should pride ourselves, here, in being one of the planet's most original crossroads. There is much more to be said about the greater diversity of Quebec, both inside and outside the two main linguistic groups; more to be said about the first nations and their rights. But, with your permission, I'll leave that for another day.

On other issues, the course we are taking this year is difficult but necessary. To create opportunities in the long run, we have to get Quebec's finances in order and get Quebec's economy back on track. We need to empower Montreal and the regions of Quebec, and we have to give our educational system the overhaul it badly needs. These are tasks that call for co-operation between all Quebecers, no matter what side they were on last October.

If we succeed in these joint endeavors there will be plenty of opportunities afterwards to put whatever spin we choose on what we've done. For some, our successes will prove that Quebec can do everything it wants inside Canada. And others will say that our successes prove that Quebec has no further need for Canada, that it has outgrown it ...

(In Montreal I saw some graffiti downtown) which says something about the need for Anglos to go home, and I wondered what it was meaning. I realized the monument was in the middle of the business district, where commuters converge ... So I figured the graffiti was the work of a Montrealer who knew something about the economic contribution of anglophones at work in the business offices ... (The grafitti expressed) his wish to see those hard-working anglophones stop putting in so much overtime and go back to enjoy the weekend. There's no other logical explanation ...

When the time comes, during the next debate on our future, when tempers flare up again as they certainly will, when nationalist or federalist rhetoric makes us cringe, it's good to know there is one unalterable truth we can cling to: the knowledge that in the end we are all Quebecers, nous sommes tous Québécois, we all love Quebec - because Quebec is home. Merci, bonsoir.

Notes