“Quebec is the first state in the world to approve the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions,” said Québec premier Jean Charest in applauding the unanimous vote of the National Assembly on November 10 in favor of the government’s motion that the National Assembly approve the international Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, adopted at the 33rd session of the UNESCO General Conference on October 20.
As explained in the November 11 issue of Courrier parlementaire, the Québec National Assembly was probably the first parliament in the world to study, debate, and unanimously ratify the UNESCO international Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, by a vote of 106 for, 0 against, and 0 abstentions. Québec played a leading role throughout the adoption process at UNESCO, and this approval by the Québec parliament is more than just symbolic. That is why Premier Charest declared, “With this Convention’s approval by the National Assembly, we’ve turned an important page in our cultural and diplomatic history. While Québec stepped up as a leader in the defense of the special nature of culture in international trade negotiations, today it has become the first government in the world to approve the Convention. I am proud of this unanimous vote, which illustrates the attachment Quebecers feel toward our creative talents.”
In Paris, where the adoption of the Convention at the UNESCO 33rd General Conference appeared a given, culture and communications minister Line Beauchamp told the media on October 14 that “We need to start the diplomatic push for ratification and rally support (…). Québec wants to be one of the first governments to approve the Convention, and the National Assembly will be the scene of a historic ceremony in November.” This approval has come barely one month later. Minister Beauchamp also mentioned this initiative by the National Assembly of Québec, adding that “The next steps will be crucial. We also have to ensure that the Convention is ratified and implemented by as many UNESCO member states as possible. This will be a long process, and Québec will continue to play an active role.” In this respect, she applauded the Canadian Coalition for Cultural Diversity for everything it had achieved and said she was convinced that the Government of Québec and the Coalition “will keep working together to continually better defend and promote our culture.”
Extolling the merits of the Convention, Minister of International Relations Monique Gagnon-Tremblay considers the National Assembly’s approval of the Convention a recognition of her government’s work, “its responsible attitude, the balance and maturity of its diplomatic efforts that were both discreet and effective, all conducted in a climate of positive collaboration with the federal government. This shows what Québec can accomplish on Canadian delegations in the future.” In the minister’s view, “we have to make the most of this success by Québec diplomacy to ensure progress gets made. The premier, my colleagues at Culture and Communications and at Economic Development, Innovation and Export Trade, Québec’s foreign representatives, and I will do everything we can to make sure our foreign contacts understand how important it is that the UNESCO Convention be ratified widely and quickly. Personally, I will take advantage of the Conference of Ministers of the Francophonie in Madagascar to raise my francophone colleagues’ awareness of the importance of such ratification,” she declared.
Claude Béchard, Minister of Economic Development, Innovation and Export Trade, added that “The UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions is just what we need. It will be a reference tool for states facing pressure to liberalize their cultural sectors and help legitimize their cultural policies on the international stage.”
Official opposition leader Louise Harel also commented, saying “Today, we celebrate the success of an enormous effort that began right here in Quebec—to convince the world of the need for an international instrument on cultural diversity (…). Now, the debate is in the capitals and nations of the world. This Convention must be ratified by 30 member states (…) but we hope that within the given timeframe, these states can adopt the Convention as quickly as possible for the wellbeing of their peoples.”
Official opposition critic Daniel Turp, referring to the role of the Parliamentary Committee on Culture that studied the text of the Convention proposed to UNESCO member countries, declared “I believe that we’ve taken a new step forward, because for international commitments as significant as the Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions we are about to approve, parliamentarians should take a greater role, to ensure that parliament is involved in concluding these international commitments, not the government alone.” For this Convention, in fact, members intervened both before and after its adoption to signify their approval. As such, he declared, “This Convention may help keep the world’s cultures alive and their cultural diversity and the diversity of cultural expressions. I hope the Convention will enable them to enrich humanity’s shared heritage more than ever before, and that it will be a very part of this enrichment.