Harper in Montreal

As many of you know, the Prime Minister long ago swore off doing press conferences in Ottawa. But he does them fairly regularly whenever he travels. What his office has never done, though, until yesterday, is provide us Ottawa reporters with a transcript of Q & A session with reporters. So, here it is and, there’s just a couple of things to point out: The transcript is prepared by the PMO not by us and so it includes some things we or other journalism organizations would not normally include such as notes where individuals applauded. I also note that all  the speakers do not seem to hem and haw, that their remarks come out fully formed and are almost grammatically perfect. We tend not actually speak that way and most journalists I know at press conference do a lot of hemming and hawing when asking a question so I’d guess that the PMO has done some editing here to make everyone read perhaps better than they actually sounded. Also, as Harper spoke mostly in French, the PMO — not me or CTV — did the translation. I have no reason to believe the translation is inaccurate but I think it’s important you know who’s doing the translating. And while I would normally edit these things before blogging them (mostly for presentation), I have left this one pretty much alone.

So, with that, here it is: Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Montreal answering reporters' questions mostly about the motions before the House of Commons on Quebec and Quebeckers:



JOURNALIST: Mr. Harper, on the question of recognition of the Quebec nation, we learned this morning that the Bloc québécois is going to support your motion.  I’d like to know how you feel and how comfortable you are knowing that you’ll be entering the House with the support of the Bloc but that in several other parts of Canada, people are displeased with your motion.

RT. HON. STEPHEN HARPER: Well, it’s interesting. This is the third position by the Bloc in three days.  (LAUGHTER) They proposed a motion. They made an amendment to their motion, and now they’re supporting our motion, but I must tell you that the responsibility of the Prime Minister of Canada, the primary responsibility is Canadian unity. If I can have the support of even the Bloc when it comes to Canada’s unity, I’m pleased.  (LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE) But I have…I have to say that this motion, this motion is important. It talks not only about the Quebec nation but about the entire reality of this Quebec nation, as I said when I addressed the House of Commons. That includes the Canadian identity. For over 40 years, two referenda, the Bloc and their Parti québécois allies have been trying to convince les Québécois to be a nation outside Canada, and les Québécois have rejected this because they are proud of their language, of their culture, of the nation, but they are also proud of their historic, current and future role in the development of this country, Canada.  And I think that this motion reflects both these realities, and it’s now up to the Bloc to explain their position and their reason for being in Ottawa.  (APPLAUSE) 

JOURNALIST: In the same vein, Mr. Prime Minister, everyone agrees that your motion has thrown Quebec’s sovereignty movement for a loop. Everyone is saying it – even Jean Lapierre said it – that’s quite a political coup. What is your sense at this point, beyond the symbolic value, that this resolution will now be adopted, and (inaudible)?

RT. HON. STEPHEN HARPER: It’s important to understand the nature of this motion. In a way I have to give the credit to the Bloc québécois, which asked Canada’s Parliament to take a position on les Québécois. They asked for recognition, and now there will be recognition. It’s simple.  This isn’t a constitutional amendment. This isn’t a legal text. It’s simply a statement of recognition, and a gesture of reconciliation.  And I think it’s important, I think it’s important to recognize reality. I know it’s not easy for everyone in Canada, but I think that when you talk about a nation, les Québécois and Québécoises are a group of peoples with an identity, a history, a language, a culture, and all that that means in the vocabulary and the nation. At the same time, I feel it’s important for the rest of the country to correct the unfortunate impression given during the past two decades that people were rejecting the definition of les Québécois, and rejecting les Québécois. This is not true, and it’s important, as I said, for recognition and for reconciliation, and now if the Bloc wants to keep calling for Quebec’s independence, they have to admit that it’s not a question of recognition in Canada.  It’s only a question of independence, and it’s only a question of tearing Canada apart and creating an independent country. And les Québécois have rejected this, even when the sovereignists tried to…appeal to federalists and appeal to the Canadian identity with ideas of partnership association; even then, les Québécois have recognized their Canadian identity.  (APPLAUSE)

JOURNALIST: Mr. Harper, question of the international implications (inaudible) of the motion (inaudible).

RT. HON. STEPHEN HARPER: As I’ve just said, this is not a constitutional amendment or a legal text. It’s an important expression of recognition and national reconciliation.  At the same time, I can tell you that my government has already indicated our capacity and our willingness to recognize this reality in a more specific way when Quebec’s distinctiveness is a real issue, like at UNESCO.  At UNESCO, an international organization that deals with issues of language and culture, this government gave a formal and historic voice to Quebec within the Canadian delegation.  And I think that it’s recognition, this motion, but at the same time this government has indicated and other governments in the past have indicated their intention to…to do more than recognition, but have a flexible federalism that can truly reflect these realities.

JOURNALIST: How do you plan on selling your nationhood project in English Canada, because I don’t know if you’ve been listening to the call-in shows, but there’s anger in English Canada.  They’re accusing you of having given Quebec a gift, a treat.

RT. HON. STEPHEN HARPER: I understand that there are people who will have difficulty with this. But I can see that they’re referring to les Québécois, a group of people. It’s a definition, a group of people with an identity, a culture, a language. That makes a nation.  The Fathers of Confederation spoke in those terms way back when. But this is for national unity. And it’s important.  It’s important to change this impression that the rest of Canada rejects the nature of les Québécois.  And it’s essential because the Bloc québécois asked the House of Commons that the Parliament of Canada take a position on the subject, and I’ve done what I must do as Prime Minister for national unity, for national reconciliation.  At the same time, I can tell the rest of Canada and in particular my friends, my supporters in Western Canada, that I’m not abandoning the things that are important to them, for example Senate reform, more seats for Western Canada in the House of Commons. They remain important priorities for our government.

REPORTER: Prime Minister Harper, on your nation resolution, is this purely a symbolic gesture of is this going to have any legal or constitutional consequences?  Will it open up the round of constitutional debate?   

TEPHEN HARPER: Sure.  Well, I think what's important here, you know my view.  I wasn’t secretive about this in the last, in particular in the last year, since I became Prime Minister.  I mean, my preference was the definition of les Québécois be left to the National Assembly, to the Quebec legislature.  But it was the Bloc québécois that ultimately insisted that the Parliament of Canada make this decision, and it was the Bloc québécois that came forward with a resolution that, while flawed, had some important elements to it.  First of all, it didn’t ask for anything for Quebec, which is a legal jurisdiction. 

What it asked was our recognition of les Québécois, which are a group of people, a sociological, a cultural group.  And obviously, you know, that made it much easier to deal with.  But you know, we insist if we are going to have a recognition of a Quebec nation, and I say again, and I know that some people in the rest of Canada will have some difficulty with this but I repeat that, you know, les Québécois are a group of people with a language, a culture, a history and identity, and according to the dictionary definition, that’s, you know, that constitutes in cultural, sociological term a nation.  And our Fathers of Confederation used this kind of terminology quite regularly.  If you look back at what John A. MacDonald said, Georges-Etienne Cartier, they said similar things at the time. 

So I think the motion we put forward, that obviously recognizes the full reality of the Quebec nationhood, not just that Quebec is a nation but it’s a nation within Canada, inextricably linked through its history, through its role in the country today and through the future that we share together, inextricably linked to this country, we believe this is important act, both an act of recognition and an act of reconciliation.  And you know, les Québécois, I think wrongly but nevertheless really, often got the impression in the past generation that the rest of the country was not prepared to recognize who they were.  And this has given us an opportunity to clarify that, and I believe ultimately to reconcile the debate we’ve had in this country, where we can say that we recognize les Québécois for who they are, not just for who they are but for the important role they play in this country.

You know we should never forget, because English is the language of the majority, we often forget that it was French-speaking Canadians that founded Canada.  It was French-speaking Canadians who were the first people to call themselves Canadians; the first group of people who had a vision of a country from coast to coast.  And so as I say, this is an important opportunity, an important opportunity to reconcile ourselves to that reality.  And I think les Québécois will respond to it and I think what it does, you know as I say it's important for national unity.  What it does is it forces the Bloc and the Parti québécois to admit that what they are arguing for is not a recognition or acceptance of Quebec or what Quebec is. 

Far from it; it’s simply a question of independence, of creating an independent country and les Qébécois have said repeatedly, when given a choice between Canada or breaking up Canada, they don’t want to break up Canada.  That's why the separatists have to keep throwing in words like association and partnership to convince people they are not really voting for a break-up because that is not what les Québécois want.  And so I think this is, when Canadians reflect on it, when they see the reaction in Quebec, I think there'll be a comfort level with it.

This is not, as I said before in French, not a constitutional amendment, not a legal text; this is merely a declaration of recognition and an act of reconciliation. And I think it's important for the country and it’s apparently so good for the country that the Bloc québécois wants to jump on the bandwagon now. This is their, as I said earlier, their third position in three days on the issue and I think now they have to explain what their raison d’être is in Ottawa, if they're going to pass a resolution put forward by the Prime Minister that endorses the unity of Canada. (APPLAUSE)

REPORTER: Mr. Prime Minister, André Boisclair, the PQ leader, said yesterday that this will be a tool to basically fuel the fire of sovereignty.  Do you think that's a valid point?

RT. HON. STEPHEN HARPER: No, I don't.  As I said, this government has already shown, independent of this motion, that this government is willing to take the practical governance steps to recognize Quebec's differences and Quebec's specific needs.  That's why, for example, when we dealt with UNESCO, which is an international cultural organization, we gave Quebec an unprecedented role in the Canadian delegation.  So we're already prepared to work, we're working productively with the current government of Quebec, with Mr. Charest. 

We don't need Mr. Boisclair to work productively with the current government of Quebec.  We're able to accommodate Quebec's needs within this country.  I think what this does is precisely the opposite.  It puts out the door once and for all the notion that the rest of the country doesn't accept Quebec for what it is, a French-speaking society.  Well, we do.  We do, we're proud of it.  It's inextricably linked to our history, to our status as a bilingual and a great country.  And so now it's up to Mr. Boisclair and Mr. Duceppe to admit that they're not looking for recognition or for some kind of appreciation.  What they're simply looking for is to break up the best country in the world.  (APPLAUSE)

That, as I say, les Québécois of all parties from Cartier and Laurier to Muroney and Trudeau have worked to build and lead and done so with millions others like them.  And so I think now…sure! They can push for more powers, for more money.  I'm going to bet that every province is going to do that.  (LAUGHTER) I've been in this job long enough to figure out that's what Premiers do.  But they have to explain why they actually have to break up the country, why Quebec's nationhood needs a separate country, because it doesn't.  Because it always has been and will be expressed fully in this country and as part of the Canadian identity les Québécois share, that les Québécois develop, that les Québécois have developed and frankly, if I can say this as well, you know, I understand.

I don't want to belittle Mr. Boisclair, Mr. Duceppe.  You know, I know Mr. Duceppe well.  I've always said I respect Mr. Duceppe.  And I know, I understand, you know, why some people are sovereigntists.  But this world doesn't need more countries.  This world needs more countries like Canada that can reconcile different nationalities and can live peacefully and harmoniously together.


RT. HON. STEPHEN HARPER: And perhaps I should repeat this because it’s important.  I respect…I recognize that this is a difficult position for Mr. Duceppe.  I respect Mr. Duceppe.  I’ve known Mr. Duceppe for a long time. I know why some Québécois want an independent country. But they have to be frank about their objective. Independent country, not recognition of the Quebec nation within Canada.  We will recognize it clearly. In my opinion, in my opinion, the world doesn’t need more countries. The world needs more countries like Canada, a progressive country that…a progressive country that can unite and that can live in harmony with all the nations of the world, and that, that is important.  (APPLAUSE)

MODERATOR: So this is all the time we have for questions.  The questi
on period is now over. Thank you very much and have a nice day.  Have a good day.  (APPLAUSE)

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