Quebec-Ontario relations examined at ACSUS conference at Glendon

Panellists discussed Ontario and Quebec relations at the 19th Biennial Conference of the Association of Canadian Studies in the United States (ACSUS) from Nov. 14 to Nov. 18 at the Westin Hotel, with two sessions at York’s Glendon campus.

The conference titled "Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Exemplar for the 21st Century", looked at where Canada was heading, its interprovincial relations and its relationship with the US.

Kenneth McRoberts, Glendon’s principal, was a panellist for the first session titled "Ontario-Quebec Inter-Provincial Relations", moderated by Diddy R. M. Hitchins, president of ACSUS and director of International & Canadian Studies at the University of Alaska.

Left: Roy Norton, minister of congressional, public & intergovernment relations, Canadian Embassy in Washington, with Kenneth McRoberts, Glendon’s principal

McRoberts outlined the relationship between the two provinces, their common trade interests, tariff policies and their historic position as the two pillars of Confederation. He touched on the 1960s "golden age" of collaboration and a 1969 agreement resulting in the creation of a permanent commission for cultural cooperation.

"But by the mid-1990s, the arrival of the Free Trade Agreement shifted the country’s economy, and the interests of the two provinces diverged," McRoberts said.

Then the Parti Québécois came to power in 1994 and a Quebec sovereignty referendum was held in 1995, and inter-provincial collaboration began to falter.

"Although some movement towards each other between the two provinces is gradually rebuilding, it lacks the infrastructure of earlier days and the sense that Quebec and Ontario are the pillars of the country."

The second panellist, Ontario MPP for the riding of Glengarry-Prescott-Russell Jean-Marc Lalonde, talked about the historically unbalanced working rights between Quebec and Ontario construction workers and how that changed with the signing of the Ontario-Quebec Labour Movement Agreement in June 2006.

Despite that agreement, Lalonde said there are still many unresolved issues between the two provinces, including non-transferable health coverage and a rigid adherence to educational districts preventing students from crossing the border to attend a closer school.

Right: Wendy Noble and Yves Castonguay

Yves Castonguay, Quebec’s assistant secretary of intergovernmental affairs, and Wendy Noble, Ontario’s assistant deputy minister, intergovernmental policy coordination, Ministry of Intergovernmental Affairs, were also part of the panel.

"Although they don’t always have the same goals, there have always been close ties between the two provinces with many examples of bilateral and multilateral cooperation," Castonguay said.

"Ontario and Quebec also face the same problems of an aging population and a diminishing workforce, resulting in labour shortages in a number of sectors."

The second session of the afternoon titled "Ontario-Quebec-U.S. Economic Relations", was moderated by Charles Doran of Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Louis Balthazar, professor emeritus in the Department of Political Science at Laval University and president of the Centre for US Studies and the Raoul-Dandurand Chair in Strategic and Diplomatic Studies at the University of Quebec in Montreal, was the first of four panellists to speak.

Balthazar talked about how Quebec is less than eager to trade with the US post- 9/11 because of the ongoing softwood lumber issue, border-crossing difficulties, the burst of the high-tech bubble, and the declining economy in the US.

Daniel Schwanen, chief operating officer and director of research for the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, took the floor to further discuss trade issues between the US, Ontario and Quebec.

Malika Dehraoui, director of economic affairs at the Bureau du Quebec à Toronto and an expert on the private sector, outlined Quebec’s trade partners as chiefly the US and the rest of Canada, especially Ontario, with some modest amounts of trade in Europe, South America, Africa and the Middle East.

Right: (left to right) Daniel Schwanen, Michael Kergin, Louis Balthazar, Malika Dehraoui and Charles Doran

The final panellist of the afternoon was Michael Kergin, former special advisor on border issues to the premier of Ontario and former Canadian ambassador to the US.

"Ontario’s prosperity is dependent on North America’s future economic success and how North Americans deal with each other and with rapidly changing challenges," Kergin, said.

Some of those challenges include protecting our borders and being mindful that Canada could become a target for terrorism due to its military presence in Afghanistan, he said.

ACSUS, founded in 1971, is a multi-disciplinary association of scholars, professionals and institutions dedicated to improving the understanding of Canada in the United States.

The Glendon sessions of the ACSUS conference were sponsored by the Ministry of Intergovernmental Affairs (Government of Québec) and the Bureau du Québec à Toronto, ACSUS, York University and the Glendon School of Public Affairs.

Story submitted to YFile by Glendon communications officer Marika Kemeny.