Who are we? Where are we going?

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Unofficial translation of « Qui sommes-nous ? Où allons-nous ?» by Parizeau, Jacques published in Le Devoir, October 30, 1996, p. A11.


Elected leader of the Parti Québécois in 1988, Jacques Parizeau brought his party to power during the elections of 1994. One year later, he fulfilled his promise to hold a referendum on the political future of Quebec, of which it is today the first anniversary. For the first time since his retirement, last January, from the public life, Mr. Parizeau reconsiders the result of this popular consultation. In this text of which he premiers for the readers of Le Devoir, he makes the assessment of the past period, draws some prospects for a forthcoming consultation and analyzes the strategy of the Bouchard government.

À l'occasion du premier anniversaire du Référendum du 30 octobre, on m'a beaucoup sollicité pour présenter mes commentaires et mes impressions. J'ai choisi Le Devoir pour cela et je remercie la direction de m'ouvrir ses pages.

At the occasion of the first birthday of the October 30 Referendum , I was greatly solliciated to present my comments and my impressions. I chose Le Devoir to do this and I thank the direction for opening its pages to me.

This text is not academic. It is that of a man whose political career has ended but who remains committed. The sovereignty of Quebec appears to me necessary for the Quebec people. It needs to be responsible for itself. Citizens must be responsible for the future of their country.

It is necessary that we enter the so promising international movement which at the end of this century makes it possible for countries that are small by their population and the size of their economy to develop, thrive, flourish, at the condition of belonging to very large markets. The thesis according to which Quebec nationalists are closing in on themselves is a fiction of the mind which slows us down. The folding on oneself in our time is not possible. We travels too much, we are too connected to international communication networks, we are too open on trade, North-American trade in particular, so that even a nostalgia of isolationism cannot subsist. We really do not have the choice. And that turns out to be good. We better and better succeed in penetrating the global village. From business people to artists, the successes multiply.

To be opened to others does not mean that one should not take car of his own interests. The international rules of behavior obviously reduced, rightly so, the range of intervention instruments that governments can use. But that does not leave them not disarmed for as much. The peoples, the nations, the States, have interests to protect. Each one brings to the world something that is unique to it at the cultural level, at the level of the social orientations or that of economic organization models. To defend its own interests, to promote them, it is not an option, it is completely natural.

Je ne veux pas aborder de façon précise ou détaillée les événements qui se sont produits sur la scène politique depuis un an. Je dois dire cependant que chaque fois que j'entends parler d'un «Plan» destiné à faire interdire un prochain référendum au Québec, je souris. Si on tient absolument à nous imposer une élection référendaire... Mais venons-en aux choses sérieuses.

I do not wish to approach in a precise or detailed manner the events which have occurred on the political scene since a year. I must say however that each time I hear people speak of a "Plan" intended to prohibit a forthcoming referendum in Quebec, I smile. If one absolutely insists on imposing a referendum elections... But let us come to the serious things.

It is necessary to come back to two fundamental, essential questions: "Who are us?" and "Where are we going?".

The referendum of a year ago clarified a lot of things : 61 % of francophones voted YES. On the island of Montreal, 69 % voted YES. The francophones represent 83 % of the population of Quebec. For once, the answer is clear; it is not unanimous, but in a democracy, one must to be wary of the unanimities. Therefore, the majority of the French-speaking Quebecers want Quebec to becomes a country. They chose their identity and their country.

As for Quebecer who are not francophones (17 % of the population), almost everyone voted NO. There were exceptions, of course, and some voted YES with more fervor even than many francophones. In many communities, the percentage of NO votes seems to have been higher than 95 %. Absolute records were reached. In several offices polls of the West of Montreal, there was no a single YES.

At the call of their leaders and their organizations, all these people claimed to remain Canadians. For certain groups, it is completely comprehensible. They prefer to continue to form a part of the Canadian majority rather than to become a minority in Quebec. Their interest dictates this attitude. Until a referendum is won, they will be as they were. Thereafter, they will adapt. Until then, they are Canadians and proud of it.

So what of the Quebec people? It is primarily made up of francophones (whatever their origin) who share a culture of their own. Minorities are added to it and indisputably enriched Quebec culture. With the exception of the aboriginals who form distinct nations, English Canadian, from old stock or immigrated of various dates, if they seek, in their almost totality, to remain Canadian, once sovereignty is achieve, they should integrate, and at their own rhythm, to Quebec people. In any case, this is what we wish. Is Québécois who wants to be.

Where are we going? There are in the path taken by our government some orientations which raise interrogations and which, I think, must be approached with a certain frankness.

That the government seldom speak of the sovereignty of Quebec is not in itself astonishing. One could have as a tactic to let people breathe for some time. After all, they have had four polls in four years on sovereignty. No doubt, since sovereignty continues to be attacked, and is no longer defended, popular support slips into the surveys. We have known this in the past well. That can be reversed. But one should not have to wait too long a time. The more the slip is prolonged, the more it is difficult to reverse.

In the same way, the new government wants, it is natural, to seek ways to make peace with the anglophones, especially with anglophone business people. It is not the first government to do that; it will not be the last either. I tried myself to much not to understand. Usually, nothing very good comes out of it: the interests are too divergent. One should simply not give too much in exchange of promises to come. The Galganov episode, at the same time ridiculous and symbolic, following Centaur speech, has this time calmed the game.

All that it will be necessary to avoid, it is to believe that the improvement of the relationship with the English community of Montreal is a kind of condition necessary to the creation of jobs and the accretion of capitals. It has not been that case for a long time (thirty or forty years). Today, the development of the economy of Quebec is no longer conditioned by the reactions of a few hundreds of people living in the Golden Square Mile or in Westmount.

What worries me the most for the continuation of the events, it is the budgetary target which the government laid down: to bring back the deficit to zero.

The situation is strange. When the Parti québécois was elected in 1994, it was, like all the governments, worried of its budgetary situation. Undoubtedly many small Canadian provinces are make their deficit go away, but taking into account the nature of their operations and the absence of certain responsibilities, it is easier for them to manage to decrease of their deficit than, for example, in Ontario, in Quebec or even British Columbia.

Dans l'ensemble, les gouvernements de nos jours sont assez peu commis à faire disparaître complètement leurs déficits. Les signataires de Maëstricht ont fixé à 3 % du PIB leur objectif de déficit pour adhérer à la monnaie commune et ils ont beaucoup de difficulté à y arriver. Monsieur Chrétien s'est fait élire sur la promesse de ramener le déficit du gouvernement fédéral canadien non pas à zéro, mais à l'équivalent de 3 % du PIB. Les États-Unis ont adopté une loi anti-déficit qu'ils se sont hâtés d'oublier; c'est la reprise de l'économie surtout qui réduit le déficit depuis quelques temps.

As a whole, the governments nowadays are rather little made to make disappear completely their deficits. The signatories of Maëstricht laid down at 3 % of the GDP their objective of deficit to adhere to the common currency and they have much difficulty of arriving there. Mr Chrétien was made elect on the promise to not bring back the deficit of the Canadian federal government to zero, but to the equivalent of 3 % of the GDP. The United States adopted a law anti-deficit which they hastened to forget; it is the resumption of the economy especially which reduces the deficit for some time.

L'Ontario traverse une formidable transformation budgétaire où on sabre dans certaines dépenses pour financer des baisses d'impôts. Ce n'est pas le déficit qui est au centre des préoccupations (il n'a été réduit, après tout, que de 15 % par rapport aux beaux jours de Bob Rae), c'est une vision de la relance de l'économie. Cela n'est pas très en accord avec les idées sociales-démocrates de beaucoup d'entre nous, mais enfin c'est une politique.

Ontario crosses a formidable budgetary transformation where one sabres in certain expenditure to finance falls of taxes. It is not the deficit which is in the center of the concerns (it was not reduced, after all, which of 15 % compared to the beautiful days of Bob Rae), it is a vision of the revival of the economy. That is not very in agreement with the social democrat ideas of much among us, but finally it is a policy.

À Québec, en prenant le pouvoir en 1994, on avait promis d'éliminer le déficit des opérations courantes, c'est-à-dire les emprunts pour payer l'épicerie, mais pas le déficit qui découle des investissements. L'économie était trop faible pour cela. Et après tout, il n'est pas déshonorant d'avoir une hypothèque sur sa maison. Une fois l'objectif atteint, il resterait donc un déficit de 2 milliards de dollars, soit un peu plus de 1 % du PIB.

In Quebec, by seizing the power in 1994, one had promised to eliminate the deficit from the current operations, i.e. the loans to pay the grocer, but not the deficit which rises from the investments. The economy was too weak for that. And after all, it is not dishonouring to have a mortgage on its house. Once the achieved objective, it would thus remain a deficit of 2 billion dollars, that is to say a little more than 1 % of the GDP.

Mon gouvernement ne s'est pas mal débrouillé. L'année 1994-1995 s'est soldée par un déficit de 5,7 milliards, et, l'année suivante, de 3,9 milliards, soit la moitié de son objectif. Pendant une année référendaire! Pas mal du tout! Et tout cela dans une sérénité relative.

My government badly did not manage. Year 1994-1995 showed a deficit of 5,7 billion, and, the following year, 3,9 billion, is half of its objective. During one year chief clerk! Not badly of the whole! And all that in a relative serenity.

On avait indiqué cependant aux électeurs que les compressions fédérales nous frapperaient de plein fouet en 1996-1997 si le vote au référendum nous empêchait de sortir du Canada. Même l'objectif restreint à l'égard du déficit serait difficile à maintenir.

Au début de 1996, le gouvernement du Québec change d'objectif, le durcit en quelque sorte. On viserait maintenant l'élimination complète du déficit, sur un horizon de temps un peu plus long que l'échéancier original. C'était placer la barre bien haut.

Pour permettre de réaliser le nouvel objectif budgétaire, il a fallu se débarrasser du cadre budgétaire qui avait été élaboré l'année précédente et qui avait donné de bons résultats (enveloppes fermées, coupures sélectives).

Le ministre des Finances avait préparé les projections de revenus sur la base d'une croissance de 1 %, ce qui semblait alors très conservateur. Aujourd'hui, ces projections semblent exagérées. On risque d'entrer dans la spirale connue : on coupe, les revenus prévus tombent, on recoupe, ils tombent encore. Je crois qu'à vouloir en faire trop, on affecte la santé de l'économie.


On dit en anglais «la paille qui cassa le dos du chameau» en parlant des charges énormes que l'on peut faire porter à l'animal jusqu'à ce qu'il s'effondre.

Je n'aime pas, ces jours-ci, les compliments que certains «grands hommes d'affaires» (à ce niveau, il n'y a pas de femmes), adversaires traditionnels de la souveraineté, adressent au gouvernement du Québec.

Je n'aime pas non plus voir un représentant du syndicat financier qui distribue les obligations du Québec occuper un poste important dans le triangle de protection que forme, pour nous maintenir à l'abri des pressions financières, le ministères des Finances, la Caisse de dépôt et Hydro-Québec.

On peut résister, on le sait maintenant, à la propagande économique et aux campagnes de peur. Elles ont toujours visé les francophones et ils ont voté très majoritairement OUI il y a un an.

Mais il faut faire attention de ne pas se faire mal à soi-même, de ne pas nuire à sa cause et de ne pas faire perdre espoir à ceux dont l'avenir en dépend.

Il y a tant à faire dans ce chantier que devrait être l'économie du Québec. Il y a tant de choses que l'on peut amorcer, quitte à les développer quand nous serons enfin sortis du système et que nous aurons enfin le contrôle de nos moyens.

La morosité est mauvaise conseillère. Il faut, tous ensemble, se redonner le goût de bouger. Il y a des obstacles, bien sûr. Il y en a toujours chaque fois que l'on veut changer quoi que ce soit. Il ne faut pas les minimiser, mais il ne faut pas les exagérer non plus.

Jacques Parizeau

Montréal, le 30 octobre 1996