(Above: Jean Charest speaks to full audience at Glendon College.)
The following article was submitted by Marika Kemeny, public relations and communications advisor at York’s Glendon College.
Jean Charest, leader of the Quebec Liberal party and of the Official Opposition in Quebec”s National Assembly since 1998, spoke at Glendon to a house packed to the rafters on Thursday, Feb. 13. He came to present his vision of Quebec-Canada relations, in the event that his Quebec Liberals win the next provincial election and form the provincial government.
Accompanied by Benoît Pelletier, a well-known specialist in constitutional law who was instrumental in shaping some of the Quebec Liberal Party’s policies, Charest spoke in both official languages about a wide range of issues of paramount importance to his province and the rest of the country. With the election campaign fast approaching, Charest commented on the fact that this will be the first Quebec election for a very long time in which the province’s status within Canada will not be the central question. He said that the current preoccupations of his province’s population, much as in the rest of the country, centre on the bread-and-butter issues of creating new jobs, attracting industries, improving the standard of living, protecting the environment and limiting taxation.
Charest presented a paradox: he stated that Quebec is the most taxed society in all of North America, and yet its current government has major economic problems. If the Liberal Party is elected, the new government’s first important challenge will be to modernize and streamline the provincial bureaucracy, and to focus on its four core missions of health care, education, prosperity and security. And, although Quebec’s status in the federation is not the first problem for the party to address, it will continue to be important. The newly-elected government’s stance (be it the Liberals or any of the other contenders) with regard to this issue will therefore require a clear definition, he said.
Charest confirmed the need for strong leadership on all the issues and declared what sounded very much like a slogan for the upcoming campaign: a proud Quebec isn’t one that sulks, but one that acts. He observed that Mario Dumont’s Action Démocratique party is sitting on the fence on most issues, thereby losing support from all sides. Charest asserted his party’s and his own determination to act swiftly and strongly on their agenda: respecting federalism, resisting centralization and working closely and constructively with all the partners at the political table.
What is on the Quebec Liberals’ agenda? They are revisiting the idea of a Federal Council, a permanent working group representing all the regions of the country, occupied with the major issues of the day on an ongoing basis. It is Charest’s conviction that this would eliminate obstacles to an economic union among the provinces, encourage unfettered trade, enable businesses to operate more freely, promote strategic alliances among the provinces and put an end to their wrangling and posturing. Referring to the recurring sovereignty issue, he added that his party would work hard to avoid repeating the same old scenarios and offering the same old solutions. They are also committed to re-establishing a balance between the surplus of federal resources and the unmet needs of the provinces. Further, Charest focused on the importance of provinces playing a role on the international scene and the need for the federal government to invite their participation in decisions and agreements which pertain to provincial jurisdiction.
He spoke about his party’s determination to represent the interests of all francophone communities in Canada, not just those of Quebec. He commented on the unique bilingual environment that Glendon offers to its students and to the wider community. He confirmed that if his party gets into power, it would provide support and maintain close contact with the college and, in particular, strongly support its recently established Chair of Quebec Studies.
A speaker who could field questions in French and English with intelligence and humour, Jean Charest concluded on an optimistic note for the future of Quebec and Canada relations to the large Glendon audience of students, faculty and members of the Toronto community.