Transcript taken from a SCAN of a certified copy from the Bibliothèque et archives nationales du Québec: « Le fonds P18 René Lévesque», of a document entitled: Quebec: A Good Neighbour in Transition, Address given by the Prime Minister [sic] of Québec, Mr. René Lévesque, to the Economic Club of New York at the New York Hilton on Tuesday, January 25th, 1977 at 21h00.
For a typed facsimile of the speech (and ease of text extraction) follow this url:
For the scan of the actual certified copy of the speech:
E M B A R G O
Please do not release
Tuesday, January 25th, 1977
Quebec: A Good Neighbour In Transition
Address given by the Prime Minister of Quebec
Mr. René Lévesque
to the Economic Club of New York
New York Hilton
Tuesday, January 25, 1977
Exactly two months ago, a new government assumed
power in Québec.
This government was born of a young political party
which had gained strength during the two previous elections,
with political sovereignty for Québec as its prime objective.
Although we at home could see such a result shaping up over
the last few years, it naturally aroused interest and
curiosity beyond our borders, not unmixed with some anxiety
and even some hostility in certain quarters.
Just what is this Québec, so close geographically, and
yet so remote for many, on account of “la différence”, and
also because proximity often breeds more ignorance than
French Québec was born at the same time as the first
American colonies. Its history is intimately linked with
that of the thirteen states which, after a hundred and
fifty years of imperial rule, decided to form the United
States of America.
Our ancestors, among the greatest of discovers [sic],
missionaries and… fur-traders, were the first white men
to explore North America as far as the Rocky Mountains
and Louisiana. Detroit, New Orleans and Milwaukee were
founded by Quebecers. About 1830, Missouri was still
French-speaking. It was the son of a Montrealer, John
Charles Frémont, who commanded the troops that conquered
California in 1846, and then became governor of that
state. Later, owing to difficult economic conditions in
the North, several thousand “Québécois” settled in your vast
country, mainly in New England. So, from the beginning,
we have always shared with you a taste for new frontiers,
a thirst for open spaces, and a drive to overcome obstacles,
even to meet sometimes quasi-impossible challenges, and thus
to create our own new way of life.
In fact, similarities must have been pretty obvious,
since Québec was invited to join the American Union two
centuries ago, and consequently, we also could very well
have taken part in the Bicentennial last year as one of the
founding states! And I know for a fact that while you were
celebrating, quite a few Quebecers were feeling nostalgic;
for, like you, we believe we are a nation. With all the
essential requirements: a clearly defined territory, our own
history, a common language and culture, a collective will to
live together and maintain a national identity.
Now, almost exactly two hundred years after its
neighbour to the south, Quebec too is making up its mind
about how to set in motion the process leading to independence.
And I can find nothing more striking, by the way, than
the many analogies between the psychological climate felt
in Quebec today, and that portrayed in many publications
describing the American atmosphere of two hundred years ago.
At that time, many people in the thirteen colonies were far
from convinced of the merits of independence. In 1775,
the delegates to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia were
greatly reluctant to break with Great Britain. There were those
who prophesied all kinds of economic disasters, with a sharp
drop in investments, and the fatal collapse of any new
currency… But independence was to obviously indicated by
geography, by history and the dynamic nature of the people,
and by obsolete institutions, that it became a fact, expressed
in such simple yet profound words that no “Québécois” can
read them without feeling a certain emotion:
“When in the Course of human events,
it becomes necessary for one people
to dissolve the political bands which
have connected them with another, and
to assume among the powers of the
earth, the separate and equal station
to which the laws of Nature and of Nature’s
God intitle them, a decent respect
to the opinions of mankind requires
that they should declare the causes
which impel them to separation.”
I could easily have opened my address with that opening
sentence of the Declaration of Independence, because it
describes so very well the feelings I come with, in this world
capital of New York, to try and explain Québec and “declare
Some fifteen years before the American Revolution,
the French colony of Québec was conquered by British troops.
That conquest deprived our society of a great many of its
elite, who went back to France, and it turned over our
political and economic life to foreign leadership. The
small “Québécois” community immediately became a very
delicate plant, tenuously rooted in an alien and not always
hospitable environment. Every effort had to be made to
ensure its protection and even its survival. So the Québec
people instinctively retreated into their shells. And then
it would take some twelve generations to bring us to the
threshold of national maturity. Of all the European groups
who settled in America in the Seventeenth Century – French,
Spanish, Portuguese and British – only the French have not
yet attained full political autonomy.
But now, at long last, Québec is a fully developed
society. It has over six million people, 82% of whom are
French by descent, language and cultural heritage. Montreal,
our metropolis, is the second largest French city in the
world. Our gross national product would make us twenty-third
among the nations of the world, and eleventh on a per capita
basis. And as for our territory, its store of resources is
even more ample than its quite sufficient size.
Independence for Quebec, therefore, now appears as
normal, I might say almost as inevitable, as it was for
the American states of two hundred years ago. Along with
deep and durable historical roots, this political emancipation
can now count on the support of sociological change, one of
the most significant aspects being the fact that our youth
is already heavily committed to it. It would be senseless,
like king Canute trying to stop the tide, to waste efforts
in order to delay the final outcome of something as natural
and irreversible as growth itself. On the contrary, it seems
to me efforts should be concentrated on the rational establishment
of future good relations between this emerging Quebec and
In my opinion, the important question – the question
everyone interested in Quebec and Canada should be asking – is
not whether Quebec will become independent, nor indeed when
it will happen, but rather how, in due time, Quebecers can
be expected to take full charge of their own political affairs.
In this respect, I believe the past augurs well for
the future. For one thing, Québec citizens are determined
that change, especially great change when required, can
and must be brought about strictly through the democratic
process. This is rather well illustrated by our recent
election, and the orderly way in which, after patient and
solid preparation, a whole new perspective came out of it
as confirmed. All our history shows that our people dislike
upsetting things in a panic just as much as they dislike
being upset themselves. There’s nothing we like more in
our affairs than a sense of continuity. We have managed
to survive, to grow and make progress despite great obstacles,
by being steadfast as well as cautious, proceeding not in
spurts but in careful transition. We may want change, but
not through disorder, since any kind of extremism goes against
the very grain of our society.
Such is the way in which Québec, since 1960, has gone
through greatly accelerated change, in fact a complete
restructuring of its social fabric, without suffering the
traumatic shocks or disruptions that so often afflict other
countries in similar circumstances. In our case, this
period is generally referred to as the “quiet revolution”.
And now, for the last seven or eight years, Québec has been
going through a similar, and in fact logically related,
reassessment and transition in constitutional matters.
And once again, if you consider how delicate such matters
can be, the evolution is going on in an atmosphere of
remarkable serenity. Initially there were a few tense
moments, but now there is nothing but patient democratic
work, so that after the “quiet revolution”, we are entitled
to expect “quiet independence” in the near future.
One of the key elements of this “quiet independence”
is our firm and clear commitment, as a government, not to
push Quebecers into so fundamental a constitutional change
without being absolutely sure in advance that it is accepted.
As you probably know, we have solemnly assured our fellow
citizens that a referendum will be held on the question,
so that all Quebecers of voting age, without distinction
as to their origin, will share equally in this historic
decision on independence. The referendum will be held
during our current term of office, that is inside of
five years at the most, and the date will be set in order
to give all legitimate advocates of the pro and the con
sufficient time to organize the great debate. This
insistence on a gradual and strictly democratic approach
is another quite eloquent indication that Québec intends
to continue, as in the past, to be one of the most stable
societies in the world, in addition to being one of the
richest and most productive for its size. In fact, in all
of today’s societies, stability is more accurately defined
as the ability to adapt to change rather than the ability
to resist it. In a world where change is now the law, more
often than not resistance only paves the way for more violent
and radical changes in the future. It is precisely this
ability, which Quebec has always shown, to manage change
without losing continuity, which constitutes the most
reassuring guarantee of its economic and social stability.
In the same spirit, along with our plan for political
sovereignty, we have also proposed an economic association
This is simple common sense, for Quebec’s economic
life is strongly linked to that of Canada. For that reason,
and also because no people can or wants to live alone, we
are certainly not looking towards any kind of splendid and
sterile isolation. We are as well aware as anyone of the
demands of interdependence between nations and economic
ensembles. We therefore propose a new type of association
with the rest of Canada, a set of new ties so that both
nations, the English and the French, may live in harmony,
side by side, without hurting each other. That we stand
ready to discuss at any time, with our minds open to pooling
or “joint-venturing” whatever should be if both Quebec and
Canada are to profit from and with one another.
This new partnership could take the form, essentially,
of a common market based on a customs union, permitting
free passage of persons, goods and capital, as in the countries
of Western Europe. Additionally, if the desire is mutual,
we are ready to go further, as far as monetary union, which
obviously would allow for political change to be implemented
with a real minimum of uncertainty in economic affairs.
This same “mix” of innovation and continuity is also
to be found throughout the program of the Parti Québécois.
Our economic and social policies, for instance, came
out of eight solid years of free democratic discussion, of
thinking and maturing together, by our thousands of party
members, who now represent, as no other party can, most of
Quebec’s regions and walks of life. The results are certainly
not perfect, nor complete in all details. What political
program ever is – or should be?
But over all, I truly believe it represents a collection
of sensible and moderately progressive policies, carefully
designed in a perspective of change without disruption. Some
of it can and will be realized in the present provincial
context; other parts would naturally have to wait until Québec
has the full competence of a sovereign state, if such is the
people’s choice in the referendum. And needless to say, in
order to keep in step with reality as we’ve done since the
beginning, a lot of it is bound to be reexamined and amended
along the way.
For example, our few general guidelines concerning
Québec’s future foreign relations and defence, while
obviously not a pressing question for the moment, would
have to be adapted to international realities at the time
And as for labeling our program, if it’s necessary,
we can call it “social democratic”. Social democratic parties
have been, or are presently in power in several western
countries of some importance, like Sweden, Great Britain,
West Germany, and also in certain Canadian provinces.
West Germany, and also in certain Canadian provinces.
However, there is no one model for social democracy.
It has to be geared, in each case, to the needs and aspirations,
but also to the means and possibilities of a particular people,
taking into account its economic situation along with the
domestic and international context it has to face.
Our model, so to speak, for social and economic
development is based on respect for the individual and
on keeping people well informed about and involved in
all major decisions that concern them. We want fully
responsible citizens. For this reason, when I appointed
the Cabinet, I created a new post, that of Minister of State
for Parliamentary Reform, who will be in charge of improving
our democratic institutions.
We advocate a decrease in regional and social disparity,
looking towards as certain amount of administrative decentralization
as well as more effective and more human operation of government.
We also emphasize the urgent need for strict integrity in public
administration. On this subject I have already issued directives
to the members of the Cabinet on conflicts of interest;
directives which are the toughest that I know of, since they
compel all ministers to sell every share they hold in any public
Above all, our intention is to work for a healthier
social climate, especially in respect to labour relations.
Our major economic organizations, both labour and management,
have already expressed some confidence in us and offered
their cooperation. Only two months after our coming to
power, there seems to be good reason to hope for less turmoil in Québec.
Through joint appraisal with our social partners, we want
to attempt in the next few months to consolidate this new
atmosphere, with a consensus on the objectives of development,
on a desirable growth rate and a better allocation of our
resources. Along these lines, the government has already
agreed in principle to an economic summit conference to be
held this coming spring.
Our program also involves the implementation of several
new measures, on which we made formal and carefully selected
commitments during the last election campaign. These commitments
require little extra spending and will be applied gradually.
In fact, this is how we intend to act in all areas. The
economic and financial situation in Québec and in most western
countries is especially difficult. As I was telling the
students of the University of Montreal a few days ago,
Québec must learn to live within its means.
Budget wise, this will involve a rearrangement of priorities
and administrative reforms in order to carry out our projects,
rather than vast and costly programs which inevitably cause
excessive growth in government bureaucracy. To attain
this objective, when I appointed the Cabinet, I set up a
Committee on Priorities whose job will be to promote more
rational decision-making within the government.
It seems to us essential economically that public
spending be self-regulating, and that we avoid considering
foreign financial markets as inexhaustible sources of supply.
Our people and businesses pay high enough taxes as it is.
We do not intend to tax them any further, nor to endanger
the competitive position of our enterprises. So any increase
in spending must be geared to the normal rise in tax revenue.
Of course, we will continue to call upon financial
markets in Quebec, Canada and outside, but we intend to
watch the growth rate of our borrowings very closely.
And do I need to say we intend to avoid like the plague
lavish spending sprees like last year’s Olympics, and
rather look systematically for essential and productive
projects, with the greatest emphasis on those that create
On this point, many of you are certainly aware that
Hydro-Québec is in the midst of vast development projects
on our great northern rivers. In this age of energy
shortages, nothing could be more indicated than a special
effort to fully develop all of our yet untapped resources
in the hydro-electric field. Since, as Minister of Natural
Resources, some years ago, I was closely and personnally [sic]
involved in the creation of Hydro-Québec as we know it
today, I am pleased to observe that the financial community
recognizes the high competence of our great utility’s
management and has never failed to provide financial backing
for its projects. And I am confident that this well-deserved
support will continue in the future.
As for general economic development, there is one strange
belief that we suffered for too long, a sort of institutionalized
belief that our economy could only be developed by outsiders, as
if Québec were no more than a convenient reserve of raw materials
for foreign enterprise.
Such an attitude of over-dependence, when it is allowed
to last indefinitely, breeds nothing but a dangerous lack of
self-reliance and economic responsibility. We want to get out
of that rut, and from now on to play a larger and more decisive
role in our own development. We are going to call upon the
full potential and all the rich and diverse capacities of our
people, both workers and entrepreneurs, and also upon the
accumulated wealth which our very strong savings tradition has
generated in Québec.
Now this does not at all mean we are closing the door on
foreign investment. On the contrary, we obviously need and will
continue to need new capital investment and new technology, both
home-grown and from outside.
Needless to say, this will have to remain mostly
a project for the future, until independence gives us
the full set of policy tools required. But as a perspective,
we think it makes a lot of sense, and once in practice
would give Québec an honest and realistic guide-book in
that sensitive field.
Speaking of delicate matters… our program does
not envisage any direct takeovers and we do not intend
to launch any policy of nationalization. The sole
exception, and we have always been quite specific about
it, has to do with the mining and processing of asbestos,
insofar as we may find such an ultimate solution necessary
if we are to correct rather poisonous working conditions
in that sector, and also to gain full advantage from our
position as first world producer and exporter. But we
are definitely not contemplating any takeovers in our other
mining fields, such as iron and copper, and the same goes
for the aluminum and pulp-and-paper industries. What we
do intend to recuperate, however, is the control and
management of our basic forest resources, in order to assure
better husbanding and make a more rational supply of wood
available. And finally, before we leave that subject, it
might interest you to know that one of our party conventions,
some time ago, even rejected by a large majority a resolution
proposing to nationalize Québec’s telephone companies,
public and vital, and expensive, though that service is…
So, in a nutshell, we are not against foreign
investment as such, and we have no intention of picking fights
with private enterprise. The Parti Québécois’ approach is
Our way of thinking about public enterprise, for instance,
does not follow from any general ideological posture; we simply
see it as a means, to be used carefully, when concrete
circumstances clearly indicate that it should be used.
And any intervention of this nature will follow the pattern
already established by our General Investment Corporation
and our other public corporations. Which means that the
Québec Government remains ready to go into joint ventures
with domestic or foreign private capital for major projects.
A quite recent case is that of Sidbec, our steel complex,
joigning [sic] forces with U.S.Steel and British Steel to launch
the Fire Lake mining development, which will require something
like $545 millions. Not so long ago, our General Investment
Corporation also joined a Canadian corporation, B.C. Forest,
and a French corporation, in order to build a $300 million
pulp-and-paper mill in Saint-Félicien, in our Lake St-John [sic]
I would also like to mention Soquem, our mining
exploration and development corporation, which I helped
to create in the Sixties, with an idea based at least
partly on the remarkable record of a comparable American
experiment during World Warr [sic] II. And I am proud to say
Soquem has been associated with dozens of other mining
concerns along the way, and with increasing success.
In short, we very simply and normally intend to build
our society and control our environment in a way that suits
our tastes, our aspirations, and our “différence”. But
différence certainly does not mean that we see ourselves
rejecting the basic social values, economic structures or
political traditions that our North American outlook is
founded upon. Whatever our national status, we remain
neighbors forever, both of Canada and the United States, and
See the public “cross reply” from Communist Trudeau to the Jimmy Carter administration in Washington on 22 February 1977. The Trudeau address followed, and is tactically linked to, Lévesque’s (present) address to the New York Economic Club of 25 January 1977.
EVIDENCE: 1971 Levesque & Separatism = Common Market for Big Business:
1. Lévesque: Quebec will LOSE the powers it gains by seceding. “It’s inevitable”, he says:
(Evidence of restructuring)
2. (CONDENSED): Lévesque: Quebec will LOSE the powers it gains by seceding:
René Lévesque’s Communist Compromise: Fundamental Restructuring of ALL of Canada: