Premier Lucien Bouchard is a veteran of Quebec politics. Now he faces perhaps his greatest challenge yet: steering the province to prosperity

The referendum last year acted as a kind of wake-up call for our neighbours, who have begun to reflect on their own future and on the ties they want to maintain with us. Amid the current search for new definitions, there are some harsh and vindictive voices being heard, though what we are hearing mainly is a new recognition of the existence, in the northern part of the American continent, of two profoundly different nations which shortly must decide their destiny.

No fruitful dialogue can begin without that recognition. I would not be surprised if, in the not too distant future, we begin to hear voices from many parts of Canada, asking if sovereignty and partnership would not be the best solution after all.

While Canadians are asking themselves this, we have a lot of work to do. The make-up of my government has been tailored to some extent by the challenges confronting Quebec this year. The choice of talents and the organisation of the government was dictated by the effort we must make in three major sectors.

Our first focus is to create jobs and improve public finances. The necessary stabilisation of Quebec's public finances promises some difficult moments. We will have to make sacrifices and change some deep-rooted habits. The public finances of Quebec - and elsewhere in Canada - are in a difficult position because we have not done the necessary housekeeping for the past ten years; but we know that the less we dare, the more difficult things will be. Each annual deficit increases our debt and therefore the share of our budget that has to be applied to interest on the debt, to the detriment of our other needs. These deficits consequently limit our capacity to improve the condition of Quebeckers.


The Quebec government's capacity for initiative is already much reduced. But if, in 1996, we choose to do nothing, we would be in danger of numbness and atrophy. We are therefore going to dare to put the figures on the table and talk frankly together. And we will try to do this without raising income taxes and without increasing the Quebec sales tax. Our aim is not to slow the economy, to prejudice business and jobs, to worsen the lot of those in need or to increase the lot of consumers. On the contrary, our aim is to give them a breath of fresh air.

My second focus is to reform education. This government, if it succeeds, will be the government of education and culture. Education should prepare for employment, but, if it did only that, it would miss the mark by half. In the same vein, the cultural industry must, without question, be supported. But if culture were only an industry, we should all be the poorer. Quebec's quality of life in coming decades depends entirely on the choices we make in education this year. Be it vocational training, where the task is huge, be it the mastery of our principal common interest, the French language, be it the understanding of our history, learning effort, precision and creativity: everything depends upon education. We must decide now whether we want to train generations of drop-outs or generations of builders.

The third area that I plan to consider is regionalisation and revitalising Montreal. It is important that each region of Quebec has two designated representatives in direct contact with decision-making centres, namely the Cabinet and the Premier. Each region will therefore have a designated minister who, in addition to sectoral responsibilities, is responsible for that region. Each regional minister will be supported by a Regional Secretary who may also, at the minister's request, assume responsibility for sectoral missions. Finally, regional issues will be debated in a new forum chaired by myself. I have high hopes that this formula, which is better integrated into the power structure, will make it possible to go still farther towards uniting Quebec's objectives and the specific objectives of the regions.

Montreal and its metropolitan region is a special case. The city's demography, complex urban and social fabric, economic and cultural role and the scope of its problems demonstrate that the city needs its own political lever. Therefore, the new minister responsible for Montreal will be mandated to promote the city and will, by June, table a bill constituting a Commission on the development of the city. The Commission will exercise major economic promotion responsibilities and will be responsible for advising the government on urban planning, transport, culture, equipment and any other matter affecting the city.

This is a huge programme. It can be achieved only with the co-operation of all our citizens, our labour unions, business people, community groups, people living in cities, the regions, the country, francophones, anglophones, New Quebeckers - and sovereigntists and federalists. The interest uniting us this year is the interest of Quebec. If we succeed, federalists and sovereigntists together, we will each know how to present this success our own way. Federalists will say that this proves that success is possible within the federal framework; sovereigntists will say that this proves that Quebec can commit itself to sovereignty on sounder terms than before. That would be a fine debate.

But until then I call on federalists, particularly those in the business world, to give priority to the economy and to differentiate between their legitimate contributions to the political debate and their necessary contributions to improving the economy. I have made it clear that we do not intend to study proposals for reform through the prism of coalitions or referendum votes. The success of our actions depends entirely upon the open-mindedness, imagination and participation of Quebec's people and their organisations.

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©Kensington Publications 1996