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Québec, September 6, 2014 Speech by the Premier of Québec, Philippe Couillard, at a ceremony to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of George–Étienne Cartier

The spoken version takes precedence.

Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada,
Régis Labeaume, Mayor of Québec City,
Hale VanKoughnett, Consul General of the United States,
Fellow members of the National Assembly,
Elected members of the House of Commons,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

(100th anniversary of the Maîtrise des petits chanteurs de Québec under the direction of Ms. Binet, in 2015)

Last week, the Council of the Federation met in Charlottetown. For the occasion, my fellow premiers and I visited and held our first official meeting of the Council at Province House.

The richly historical building reminded us of the decisive exchanges that took place in September 1864 with the aim of forming the Confederation. One hundred and fifty years later, the premiers of the provinces and territories gathered together again under the same roof.

Familiar with the role and contribution of George‑Étienne Cartier in forming Canada, especially with regard to protecting Québec and French Canadians at that time, I am delighted to be among you today to celebrate the 200th anniversary of his birth.

***

The Cartier family history reflects that of thousands of families who crossed the Atlantic to settle in New France. Like my ancestor Guillaume Couillard, who arrived in Québec City from Brittany in 1613, George–Étienne Cartier’s great-grandfather Jacques Cartier (not the explorer) also decided to make the crossing to Québec City around 1735.

French Canadians then, like Quebecers today, were attached to their language, culture and the specific nature of their territory, as well as their religion, which was a major component of their identity back then.

An active participant in the 1837–1838 rebellions and subsequent federation builder, George-Étienne Cartier led a life that reflected the co-existence of a strong national sentiment and desire to belong to a bigger country.

In 2014, this search for balance remains.

Cartier concluded that isolation was not the solution for the continued prosperity and growth of North America’s only French-speaking population.

As well, for him, annexation to the United States was not the best way to ensure the survival of French Canadians.

His alliance with John A. Macdonald enabled him not only to lay the groundwork for our federation but also to implement measures ensuring the promotion and protection of Québec’s distinct French character.

Of notable significance is the work that led to the promulgation of the Civil Code, a series of educational reforms, including the establishment of a Council of Public Instruction and teacher training institutes. It should be noted that at that time barely 12% of the French‑speaking population living in rural areas knew how to read and write.

Whether in Québec City, Montréal, Ottawa or London, Cartier defended our people.

For him, the union of provinces to form a country would serve the interests of Quebecers since a large number of responsibilities would be carried out by local government, namely that in Québec City.

***

Since then, many events have influenced the course of our collective history. But despite these changes, one thing is undeniable: two founding peoples decided to create Canada… and one of them was made up of Quebecers, North America’s leading Francophone representation.

The Royal Coat of Arms of Canada bears witness to this.

Moreover, if we were to revisit the history of the birth of Canada today, we would be joined by the First Nations, who were not represented in 1867.

Ever since Pierre-Joseph-Olivier Chauveau, the first premier of Québec in 1867, it has been the duty of each premier to defend the uniqueness of Québec, our distinct character, and to promote and protect our language in Québec, elsewhere in Canada and throughout North America.

***

Today, I would like to acknowledge that Prime Minister Harper had an important motion passed by the House of Commons in 2006, recognizing that “the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada.”

I commend this important gesture.

The construction of a country never ends.

Quebecers believe that their specific nature and Canada enrich each other.

The economic, social and political benefits are real for Québec.

On the eve of Canada’s 150th birthday, Quebecers would like to see the pact that gave rise to the country be reaffirmed.

And to those who believe that flight, denial and isolation are a reasonable solution, I would say that we have a duty to follow George-Étienne Cartier’s vision—one in which there is a unique and enviable sharing of a common destiny, and which includes a strong and assertive Québec identity.

Today, as was true more than 150 years ago, the growth of Québec is through a respectful and mutually beneficial association with all of the regions that make up Canada. I firmly believe in the progress of Québec within a united Canada, but not in a unitary state.

I assure you that by maintaining harmonious relationships with our federation partners, alliances and positive leadership within the federation, we are honouring the memory of George-Étienne Cartier.

Together, we will continue to show that Québec can advance, thrive and develop in all areas when it is united rather than divided, when it participates rather than excludes itself, and when it fully assumes its role in Canada and takes its rightful place.

I thank Prime Minister Harper for being present to underscore the contribution of George‑Étienne Cartier in the creation of our country. Today, I invite all Quebecers to draw inspiration from the spirit of this nation-builder and to continue contributing to the visibility, credibility and image of Québec and Canada throughout the world.

***


Online as of: September 6, 2014


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