The new realities and challenges for Ontario and Quebec

York University’s Glendon College recently completed its largest three-day colloquium on relations between Ontario and Quebec. Titled “Ontario-Québec Relations: New Realities, New Challenges“, the conference examined the relationship between Ontario and Quebec following the major political and economic shifts that have taken place since the 1960s. Over 20 researchers came together with representatives from business, labour and politics, to examine this issue. The conference took place Feb. 23-25 and was organized by the Office of the Chair in Quebec Studies at Glendon, held by Professor Simon Langlois.

Jean-François Lisée, the executive director of the new International Studies Center (CERIUM) of the University of Montreal, opened the conference with a keynote address titled, “Comparing Ontario and Québec – A Fresh Look”.

Left: Jean-François Lisée

His presentation highlighted differences between the two provinces. “Québecers may bear a heavier tax burden than Ontarians but, on the other hand, they receive more services in return, thereby reducing the gap between the two provinces; this has often come into particular focus in recent years,” said Lisée. (For full coverage of the remarks made by Lisée, click here.)

On Feb. 24, during the afternoon a roundtable discussion focused on new perspectives on the relations between Ontario and Quebec. Benoît Pelletier, minister of intergovernmental affairs of Quebec, and Jean-Marc Lalonde, MPP for Glengarry-Prescott-Russell, chair of the standing committee on General Government and president of the Ontario section of the Association of Francophone Parliamentarians, presented Quebec and Ontario perspectives on the new accord between the two provinces.

Right: Benoît Pelletier

Pelletier spoke of the importance of a strong partnership between the provinces, especially between Ontario and Quebec, within the context of the Council of the Federation, which he described as a constitutional form based on sovereignty shared between two levels of government. He expressed his wish that the Council of the Federation, the new institution comprised of all 13 provincial and territorial Premiers,  would continue to evolve and play a greater role in the Canadian political landscape.

Lalonde referred to the terms of an agreement currently being negotiated between Quebec and Ontario. The agreement will focus in particular on health services, education, the environment and tourism, as well as on the contentious issue of labour mobility between the two provinces. He urged the establishment of more fluid relations between the two partners and the abolition of as many barriers to the movement of people as possible. Highlighting the benefit of such an agreement, Lalonde said: “If an Ontarian is injured while skiing in Quebec, it has to be possible to take care of him without administrative hassles.”

Left: Jean-Marc Lalonde

Following the roundtable, representatives from commercial institutions in Quebec talked about the evolving business relationship between the two provinces. The move by Quebec’s Caisses populaires Desjardins, to purchase credit unions in Ontario was used to illustrate the evolving business relationship. Claude Béland, the former president of the Desjardins Movement, and Donat Boulerice of the Caisses populaires de l’Ontario, explained how the Ontario savings banks have capitalized on their association with Quebec’s Desjardins to develop themselves and provide many of the company’s services to their Ontario members.

The final colloquium session focused on the study of French as a second language in English Canada. Journalist Graham Fraser of the Toronto Star said that the study of French in English schools is underdeveloped. “To withdraw from the challenge of overcoming the language barrier is to fail to understand one of the key factors shaping our political environment,” said Fraser who went on to state that only the federal political parties truly feel the need for bilingualism, while other spheres of public life have moved away from this ideal.

In summarizing the colloquium, Simon Langlois, holder of Glendon’s Chair in Quebec Studies, praised participants and expressed his desire to see the colloquium continue as an important forum for students, academics and representatives from business, labour and politics to meet to pave the way for better understanding of the unique relationship between the two provinces.  “It is to be hoped that this colloquium will mark a stage along this road,”said Langlois. The full conference proceedings will be published later this spring on the Glendon Web site.