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Glendon Sessions of ACSUS Conference Shed New Light on Ontario-Quebec-U.S. Relations

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The 19th Biennial Conference of ACSUS (Association of Canadian Studies in the United States) took place from November 14th to 18th, 2007 in Toronto’s Westin Harbour Castle Hotel, with the title “Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Exemplar for the 21st Century”. While the majority of the sessions took place at the Westin Hotel, two were held on the Glendon campus on November 15th, with topics that proved to have direct relevance to Glendon’s bilingual reality, and its links with Canadian and Quebec Studies.

The afternoon’s host was Glendon’s principal, Kenneth McRoberts, a political scientist with a lifelong dedication to studying bilingualism and Canada’s unity, and a panellist for the first session. “ACSUS is interested in examining provincial and intergovernmental relationships”, said McRoberts. “This year’s conference, situated in Toronto, adds another layer to the discussions, allowing a closer look into relationships at the Ontario-Quebec level, as well as the interactions between Canada and the U.S.”.

The first session, with the title “Ontario-Quebec Inter-Provincial Relations”, was moderated by Diddy R. M. Hitchins, MBE, President of ACSUS, Political Science professor and Director of International & Canadian Studies at the University of Alaska, Anchorage.

Principal Kenneth McRoberts opened the discussion with a brief overview of Glendon, its unique bilingual approach and its mission of preparing future leaders of Canadian society. He cited the creation, at Glendon in 2001, of the first Chair of Quebec Studies in English-speaking Canada as proof of Glendon’s historic dedication to issues concerning the two provinces.

In a broader overview, McRoberts outlined the relationship between the two provinces, their common interests in trade, tariff policies and their historic position as the two pillars of Confederation. He cited their “Golden Age of collaboration” during the 1960s, and a formal agreement in 1969, which resulted in the creation of a permanent commission for cultural cooperation. As a local footnote, in 1989, this commission celebrated its 20th anniversary at Glendon. “But by the mid-1990s, the arrival of the Free Trade Agreement shifted the country’s economy, and the interests of the two provinces diverged”, explained McRoberts. The change in political climate, with the Parti Québécois taking power in 1994, and the Quebec sovereignty referendum of 1995, resulted in a general disbanding of inter-provincial collaboration. “Although some movement towards each other between the two provinces is gradually rebuilding, it lacks the infrastructure of earlier days and the sense that Quebec and Ontario are the pillars of the country”, concluded McRoberts.

The second panellist was Jean-Marc Lalonde, Ontario MPP for the riding of Glengarry-Prescott-Russell, who has served in the provincial legislature since 1995. He is an outspoken advocate of Francophone rights in Ontario, and of fairness in inter-provincial trade practices.

Lalonde outlined the historically unbalanced working rights between Quebec and Ontario construction workers: with Quebec workers, who were unionized, free to seek employment in Ontario, while their non-unionized Ontario counterparts not permitted to work in Quebec. Under the slogan, “Fairness is a two-way street”, Lalonde contributed considerably to the creation of an agreement, signed in June 2006 by Quebec Premier Jean Charest and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, allowing the free movement of construction labour in both directions.

Lalonde pointed out that there are still many unresolved issues between the two provinces. He cited the example of non-transferable health coverage, resulting in a 3-month waiting period for individuals moving from one province to another; or the rigid adherence to educational districts, when in some rural areas, a student might live much closer to an out-of-province school across the border, than the one to which he officially belongs – resulting in lengthy daily travelling.

“Yet there has also been significant progress in inter-provincial agreements on certain issues”, stated Lalonde. Currently, Quebec and Ontario report to each other and mutually enforce traffic convictions and other criminal offences. In the construction industry, the two provinces now exchange reports of accidents, faulty work, and non-completion of projects, ultimately protecting the consumer.

The next panel presented Yves Castonguay, the Québec Government’s Assistant Secretary of Intergovernmental Affairs and Wendy Noble, Assistant Deputy Minister, Intergovernmental Policy Coordination, Ministry of Intergovernmental Affairs in the Government of Ontario.

According to Castonguay, the relationship between the two provinces has always been very important and, contrary to their public image of adversity and competition, Ontario and Quebec have much in common and can draw upon a long history of collaboration. “Although they don’t always have the same goals, there have always been close ties between the two provinces”, declared Castonguay, “with many examples of bilateral and multilateral cooperation.” Two such examples are the exploitation of natural resources and Francophone affairs. Ontario and the U.S. have always been Quebec’s chief economic partners, with many commercial and trade partnerships. “Ontario and Quebec also face the same problems of an aging population and a diminishing workforce, resulting in labour shortages in a number of sectors”, added Castonguay. In addition, Ontario has the largest Francophone minority in the country, resulting in many exchanges and formal talks on topics such as daycare, education, and health care. He concluded by stating that although ”…sometimes we have had our differences, overwhelmingly our history is that of cooperation, partnerships and alliances.”

In her capacity as ADM of Intergovernmental Policy Coordination, Wendy Noble is responsible for formalizing working relationships between Ontario and Quebec, at the ministerial and administrative levels. “Because the two provinces share a border and a history, we have many issues in common”, said Noble, “and we have an interest in reinvigorating and redefining previous agreements.” Since the McGuinty government in Ontario and Charest’s in Quebec have announced their intention for bilateral population initiatives in 2004, a protocol has been produced for setting out a framework for cooperation. In addition to the Ontario-Quebec Labour Movement Agreement, nine sector agreements for cooperation have been concluded in transportation, the environment, forestry, tourism, mutual aid in emergencies, health care, technology, art and culture, and Francophone affairs. Further new areas for cooperation are under discussion, including social and youth services, and immigration.

The second session of the afternoon, with the title “Ontario-Quebec-U.S. Economic Relations”, was moderated by Charles Doran of Johns Hopkins SAIS (School of Advanced International Studies). Doran introduced four panellists, starting with Louis Balthazar, professor emeritus, Department of Political Science, Laval University, president of the Center for U.S. Studies and the Raoul-Dandurand Chair in Strategic and Diplomatic Studies, University of Quebec in Montreal.

Balthazar outlined how the tremendous empathy for the U.S. resulting from the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001 has been eroded in Quebec and the rest of the world, in reaction to U.S. obsession with security, and its increasing isolationism and warmongering. While prior to 9/11 Quebec was eager to trade with the U.S., a number of important issues have changed this positive attitude. These include the softwood lumber issue, border-crossing difficulties, the burst of the i-tech bubble, and the U.S.’ declining economy. Today, Quebec trades more with the rest of Canada than with the U.S., and its main trading partner is Ontario. “Although some agreements are in effect with Europe and Mexico, Quebec remains strongly defined by its geography, firmly positioned in North America for trade in its areas of excellence: information- and biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and aerotechnology”, said Balthazar.

Next, Daniel Schwanen, Chief Operating Officer and Director of Research, Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Ont. took the floor to discuss trade issues between the U.S., Ontario and Quebec. “The effects of Free Trade, and changes in communications and Canada’s transportation infrastructure have resulted in a significant increase in north-south rather than east-west trade”, said Schwanen. Yet many issues arise connected with cross-border labour mobility, issues such as health coverage, work regulations, accreditation, relocation of families and education. With the tightening of cross-border mobility to the U.S., there is a realization that we have much in common within Canada itself, such as our economic interdependence, our currency, our institutions, our concept of fair competition, our foreign investment policies, our criminal code and our citizenship. “These common principles bind us together as political entities and our trade with the U.S. does not endanger our status as a country”, concluded Schwanen.

Malika Dehraoui, Director of Economic Affairs at the Bureau du Québec à Toronto (Government of Québec) and an expert on the private sector, outlined Quebec’s trade partners as chiefly the U.S. and the rest of Canada – especially Ontario, with some modest amounts of trade in Europe, South America, Africa and the Middle East. A large part of Quebec’s exports are in the high-tech industry. “The challenges for Canadian exporters to the U.S. are the stringent security measures established by that country, the relationship of the Canadian versus the U.S. dollar, market diversification and trade barriers”, said Dehraoui. As for imports to Quebec, the province’s main suppliers are Ontario, the U.S. and Europe.

The final panellist of the afternoon was Michael Kergin, former Special Advisor on Border Issues to the Premier of Ontario and former Canadian Ambassador to the United States. “Ontario’s prosperity is dependent on North America’s future economic success, and how North Americans deal with each other and with rapidly changing challenges”, said Kergin. He confirmed the difficulty of dealing with the movement of goods and labour in the post-9/11 reality, recognizing the importance of protecting our security and our borders – including the Arctic. He stated that owing to its military presence in Afghanistan, Canada could be a target for terrorism. “Security measures and trade are not mutually exclusive”, commented Kergin. “We must find a balance between safe borders and an effective economy”. He outlined the need for improving transportation infrastructures, while praising some of the new initiatives that are being developed, such as the Detroit and Niagara trade corridors. “Ontario and other provinces have important roles to play in developing security measures and collaboration with U.S. authorities”, added Kergin. “Making the border fluid for trade and manufacturing is paramount for economic success”.

How does North America deal with a rapidly changing global market? “Not by thickening the borders”, replied Kergin. “Ontario - and the rest of Canada – has much to offer to world trade. We have technology, resources, an educated workforce, giving us the necessary components for competition with emerging Asian and North American markets.”

More about ACSUS:

The Association for Canadian Studies in the United States (ACSUS), a multidisciplinary association of scholars, professionals and institutions, is dedicated to improving the understanding of Canada in the United States. Founded in 1971, ACSUS encourages creative and scholarly activity in Canadian Studies, facilitates the exchange of ideas among Canadianists in the U.S., Canada and other countries, enhances the teaching of Canada in the U.S. and promotes Canada as an area of academic inquiry. The Association's biennial conference provides a multidisciplinary forum for scholarly discussion and a venue for networking with colleagues from the United States, Canada and the world.

This year’s Glendon sessions of the ACSUS conference were made possible by the generous contributions of the Ministry of Intergovernmental Affairs (Government of Quebec) and the Bureau du Québec à Toronto, ACSUS, York University and the Glendon School of Public Affairs.

This article was submitted by Glendon communications officer Marika Kemeny

Published on November 21, 2007