National Assembly, Québec City, October 18, 2005 – 2005/10/18
Québec premier Jean Charest introduced a motion in the National Assembly to mark this major advance in the protection the diversity of cultural expressions. “We should all celebrate the adoption of the Draft Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions by UNESCO at the 33rd General Conference (…) We can also be pleased that 151 states expressed clear support for the draft document, whereas only two voted against. This is a very important victory, a victory we can credit in large part to the efforts of the government of Québec.”
The premier pointed out that the Québec government was one of the first to throw its support behind the idea of a convention. Québec’s position on cultural diversity dates back to the late 1980s, when the Québec government demanded that Québec’s cultural industries be excluded from the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement. Québec reiterated its stance in 1993 during NAFTA negotiations with the U.S. and Mexico. In 1999, Québec formally came out in favor of adopting a standard-setting international instrument to protect and promote international diversity. Mr. Charest explained that “when we talk about a legal instrument, it’s because we want a counterweight to bilateral and multilateral free trade agreements. And when we talk about standards, it’s because we want it to be perfectly clear that in the event of a conflict involving a free trade agreement, our objective is to see cultural diversity protection prevail.” In September 2003, the Quebec government adopted, by cabinet decision, an official position in favor of the diversity of cultural expressions. “For two years now, my colleagues (have backed this position): the minister of culture and communications, who is in Paris now (…) defending Québec’s views at UNESCO; the minister of international relations, who (…) has worked untiringly to defend our position for the past two years; the minister of economic development, who has thrown his support behind his colleagues (…). The minister of culture and communications is expected to defend culture, but it is even more important for the minister of economic development and the minister of finance to be one side so that we can speak in one voice when presenting Québec’s position.
Mr. Charest went on to say that the Québec government had defended cultural diversity in every arena and could now declare its first victory. “Our history is probably the best argument for a convention to protect cultural diversity. We believe that the current process of globalization may threaten the ability of states and government to take action in support of culture. Excluding culture from major trade agreements quickly proved inadequate for guaranteeing the right of states to support their artists, creatives, and cultural industries.” This is where the idea of an international instrument was born. The idea came from Québec, and quickly attracted support from France and the Canadian federal government as well, Mr. Charest explained. “With the support of France and other countries, we successfully promoted cultural diversity in every international forum we could: UNESCO, the European Union, the International Organization of the Francophonie, the International Network on Cultural Policy. Québec also played an influential role in this debate as the result of the untiring efforts of a number of Quebecers who deserve our thanks today.” They include Pierre Curzi and Robert Pilon. “Thanks to them and their team, there are now over 30 cultural diversity coalitions representing the artistic and cultural communities in as many countries. Their coalition has built a remarkable partnership between governments, multilateral institutions, and civil society. Without a doubt, civil society has played a crucial role in this fight and will continue to do so in the phases left to come.” Mr. Charest also named Ivan Bernier, “the reputed jurist who did a colossal job fleshing out the legal avenues for the implementation of a convention on cultural diversity, especially in his 1998 study in collaboration with France.”
In concluding, Mr. Charest reminded his audience that the battle was not over. “Now comes ratification. To take effect, the convention must be ratified by at least 30 states. So we cannot sit back and relax just yet. Québec should maintain its leadership in protecting and promoting the diversity of cultural expressions by becoming the first government to approve the convention. That is my wish, and I call upon all members of the National Assembly to ensure this step is completed as rapidly as possible. The process will get underway in the next few days and a vote on adoption will take place in the coming weeks. Governments involved in defending the diversity of cultural expressions need to remain active and continue promoting the convention so that it can take effect and prove its effectiveness. Drafting a convention is one thing, but it still needs to be ratified and implemented, it still needs to be protected against countermeasures in other forums (…) like the WTO. We must be extremely vigilant in this regard. We will be there with our allies from Canada, France, the Francophonie, the EU, South America, with civil society and the coalition, but most of all, with our artists and artisans, those same people we have fought to provide with an environment designed to foster the development of our people, our culture, and our language.”
National Assembly opposition leader Louise Harel added her voice to those of other National Assembly members to hail the new convention. She declared that the official opposition would play a constructive role in the debate to approve this important international undertaking. She also paid tribute to former culture ministers Louise Beaudoin, Agnès Maltais (the member for Taschereau), and Diane Lemieux (member for Bourget), “who successively promoted cultural diversity here, in the National Assembly, and in all international forums in which they took part.” Ms. Harel also paid tribute to Mr. Ivan Bernier, “whose studies were instrumental in convincing our friends in France to set up the France-Québec working group on cultural diversity (…) Quebecers should also be very proud that (the idea of a convention) was born here (…) It was this working group that commissioned the first study on the legal feasibility of an international instrument on cultural diversity. Published in 2002, this study was the veritable launching point for the debate on the convention.”