Memo : Internal documents : Province pushes ’the envelope’ in its foreign relations
OTTAWA - The Quebec government’s pressure tactics on the federal government to win itself a greater role in the European Union have included "surprises and game-play" to get invited to ministerial meetings, an internal Foreign Affairs memo reveals.
The memo was among documents obtained through the Access to Information Act. The documents stress federal officials at Foreign Affairs have been alert against possible unilateral forays into international affairs by Quebec officials.
The documents also say federal officials insisted on being present at any meetings of Quebec and European Union officials.
The revelations in the documents obtained by Ottawa researcher Ken Rubin are consistent with recent declarations by Quebec Premier Jean Charest that the provincial government no longer considers itself a subordinate to the Canadian government on the world stage.
Mr. Charest said in a recent interview with the French magazine Express that Quebec’s relationship with Canada is similar to France’s with the European Union.
He also said Quebec federalists do not take a backseat to separatists when it comes to defending the province’s "identity" on the world stage.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has met regularly with Mr. Charest, has shown an openness to giving Quebec a greater voice internationally. For example, Mr. Harper held a ceremony in the National Assembly with the Premier to announce Quebec’s enlarged role at UNESCO.
But in an internal memo dated the summer of 2005, a Foreign Affairs official wrote Quebec was pushing the "envelope" when it came to its international role.
"The Quebec government has tried hard to expand the envelope of its international relationships, including with EU [European Union], institutions to which they are not accredited," said the memo, originating from Nicole Sondergaard in Brussels.
The heavily censored memo notes Quebec has been "more astute" than Foreign Affairs in recognizing the public affairs benefits of being active in the EU "political-media culture."
It said the federal government should "re-orient our instincts" to give its relationship with Quebec a chance to work, adding that "connections and understandings" have to be at the political level.
"We are describing separately the sorts of surprises and game-play which went on to get Quebec invited to the EU informal Ministers of Culture event in Luxembourg. In the end, we did fine, even without the presence of Minister [Liza] Frulla," said the memo, under the heading "our recent experience in culture."
In a September, 2005, memo about federal-provincial co-operation on international affairs and an Oct. 7 meeting with a Quebec delegation, Foreign Affairs states that the federal government must respond to recent demands by the province for participation in international forums.
It listed among Quebec’s demands the right "to express itself with its own voice" and "recognition of Quebec’s right to provide consent before Canada signs or declares itself bound by a treaty."
But in a background memo marked confidential under the heading "current rules of the game," Foreign Affairs warns that the federal government has exclusive responsibility for Canada’s foreign policy and international relations.
"To represent Canada effectively in international forums and negotiations, and to promote and defend the national interest, Canada must speak and act with a single, unified and fully informed voice. This means that there is only one Canadian delegation at any international meeting or forum and one official Canadian position," said the memo.
It also later states that there are no provisions in Canadian constitutional law that give particular powers to the provinces and territories in the formulation or conduct of foreign policy.
It said a report written by then-foreign affairs minister Paul Martin Sr. in 1968 argued that, given the international legal framework, a federal government that allowed a province to act autonomously in the area of external affairs "could no longer be considered a federation but would inevitably become a loose association of states."
In another memo, Serge April, Canada’s ambassador at the time in the Netherlands, wrote that Quebec’s delegate general in Brussels, Christos Sirros, had met him at a performance of the Cirque du Soleil and asked to call him before he left during the summer of 2005 to "seek his views on events in the Netherlands ... and to better entrench co-operation with the embassy."
While they reviewed past co-operation between the embassy and Quebec officials, Mr. April "reiterated the point that the embassy would be present at any meetings between the delegate general or his staff and the Foreign Ministry."
Response lines prepared for then-foreign affairs minister Pierre Pettigrew for an October, 2005, meeting with Quebec ministers Benoit Pelletier and Monique Gagnon-Tremblay state categorically : "Canada must speak with one voice internationally. Conflicting messages weakens our ability to negotiate. So, no province can negotiate separately from the Canadian delegation."
Earlier, it said Quebec was demanding participation in such other international bodies as the World Trade Organization and Organization of American States.