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Canada-France: Prospects for a distinct relationship








Thursday, October 3, 2013

Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Montreal





Ladies and gentlemen,

Dear friends,


Mr. Chairman, thank you for your kind and warm words. In response, I would like to extend my thanks to you, as well as all of CORIM’s members, for the wonderful hospitality bestowed upon me today, and tell you how glad I am to take part in your discussions. Not only because it is always intellectually challenging to debate with one of the highest-ranking forums in Canada, but also just because it feels so good to be “back home”.

“Prospects for a distinct relationship”. Some of you might have thought that the title of my talk was… unusual, to say the least. It is true that I intended to surprise you, but I also wanted to convey a message at the outset: we are here amongst friends, so let’s speak candidly, let’s not be afraid to compare ideas or to put new ones on the table…

Here in Montreal and Quebec, you know Europe well. You know its history as well as the special relationship we have always had with France. It is therefore not necessary to detail here its’ more recent history.

Many of you here have known me for years. You have known me as a politician, as a member of Parliament, and then as a Minister – first for the province of Quebec, then later in the federal government. One year ago, I took up my post as Ambassador to Paris, bringing with me a fresh perspective. I say “fresh” because it was not that of a career diplomat – it is the perspective of someone who is both a Quebecer and a Canadian.

France is a close neighbour to Canada… through Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon. Our country has a very unique relationship with this neighbour, one that has reached a degree of maturity that other bilateral partners can only dream of. It is more than a state-to-state relationship; it is something of a more intimate nature, a “people-to-people” relationship, as they say in Paris in the language of Shakespeare!

I consider Canada and France to be like an old couple, where both partners are comfortably ensconced in a loving, respectful relationship. It is comfortable, soothing, uncomplicated. That is exactly what makes the Canada-France relationship so unique.

But, today in 2013, the relationship needs to be livened up… And what adds spice to a relationship? Well, it’s up to us to find out, and that’s where we need to look into the future.

But first, a question: why France? Why give special attention to our relations with France, when there are so many big challenges elsewhere around the world, and when everyone is looking to the BRICS countries? Because aside from the Canada-United States relationship, the Canada-France bilateral relationship is the only one to have an informal but permanent political, social, cultural and economic resonance for us. That is what makes it remarkable, unique.

Moreover, we are going through a phase that I would call exceptional. Both our countries are governed by leaders who get along well, despite hailing from clearly different political movements; perhaps this is because of their personalities or because of the practicalities of the current context. Be that as it may, both leaders are pragmatic and have an acute sense of awareness of mutual and converging interests. Suffice it to say that we should leave behind an approach based on an idealized fantasy and analyze our relationship objectively in order to determine where we can and want to take it, in concrete terms.

In other words, both parties want to strengthen and “spice up” the relationship and the time is right to do so. In order to achieve this, there are two important premises to bear in mind, which I would like to examine with you:

  1. A prosperous Canada benefits France;
  2. As a key partner, France can help Canada advance its foreign policy priorities.

 As you know, France has been hit by a deep economic crisis, and it is hard to predict whether it will soon be out of the woods. What I can tell you, however, is that the general mood is lifting. Let’s hope that confidence will be restored soon. The challenge is sizeable: President François Hollande needs to lead the country out of a crisis which began in 2008 and saw the euro zone sway, even shake, because its members were unable to define a joint economic monetary policy.

At the same time, France is going through a crisis of competitiveness. This deep crisis is the result of successive governments maintaining a large public deficit over the past forty years. The present French government is striving to introduce urgent reforms in order to reduce the imbalance in its public finances, stimulate the competitiveness of the country’s businesses, boost economic growth and reverse the unemployment trend.

This goal is as ambitious as it is compelling. To achieve it, France will need to find ways to boost its economic growth, and partnering with a strong, stable and prosperous Canada could prove helpful. This is the reason why France, our federal government and all the provinces – with Quebec in the lead – have expressed an interest in a comprehensive economic and trade agreement between Canada and the European Union. As the agreement is still being negotiated, I cannot speak about it in detail. Suffice it to say that, according to experts, should talks come to a successful conclusion, this will be the most ambitious bilateral agreement ever negotiated, and would stand to boost our bilateral trade by a minimum of 20%.

France is also in the midst of a public debate about energy and will have to make crucial choices very soon. The share of nuclear energy in the overall mix is destined to decline, and the country’s trade balance is already heavily strained by energy imports. This poses, once again, the question of security of supply. Of all the major energy-producing countries, Canada is one of the rare countries to boast political and economic stability.

All these factors combine to make Canada an attractive country for France, a little-known fact here. 200,000 of our French friends live in Canada as residents, workers or students: 14,000 young and dynamic French citizens come over each year to live, study or work here to gain international experience. They mostly converge here in Montreal, or more widely in Quebec, but some also go to the Maritimes, Ontario, the Prairies and out West, in numbers that are growing as fast as here in Quebec. And the reverse is also true: for young Quebecers and, more broadly, Canadians, a French experience is possible – and invaluable – through the OFQJ and other organizations. We have not filled as many places as the agreed quotas allow, so please spread the word amongst your young friends!

As for French businesses that invest in Canada in a move to conquer new markets, our country offers a twofold advantage. First, it is an extraordinary gateway to America. I can tell you as we are gathered here in Montreal that the first contacts with France are often established here in Quebec. Let us not forget that France is the second-leading foreign investor in Quebec following the United States.

Canada is well armed to build new bridges between Europe and America: we have two languages, a mixed-jurisdiction system, lively European traditions inherited from Britain, Italy, Germany, Portugal, Poland, etc. Basically, Europeans easily feel at home in our country, living with Canadians. Also, French people are increasingly directing their gaze westwards, because of the plentiful and rewarding business opportunities there. But also because Canada’s western provinces are our gateway to Asia, which is an added attraction for the French.


Dear Friends,

I have analyzed the first premise I mentioned in the beginning, and I feel we can legitimately conclude that France’s partnership with a dynamic and prosperous Canada is strategically important. It is strategic for its economy, its trade, and its growth. It is strategic for its businesses, large, small and medium. And it is strategic for its young people.

Canada’s bilateral investments and trade relations with France certainly contribute to our country’s prosperity, but we see another strategic advantage in our unique relationship: France is a key partner in advancing our own foreign policy priorities.

In this area, Canada’s priorities are clear: security and prosperity. France shares many positions with Canada and is a powerful ally, being a member of the UN Security Council, NATO, the G8, the G20, not to mention the great international Francophonie family.

France is one of the few great military and nuclear powers of the world. The country’s leadership and initiatives in the Malian and Syrian crises and earlier in Libya received active support from Canada and were praised by the international community; they contribute to preserving balance and help to protect entire swathes of the globe from stepping closer to the precipice. In his recent speech to French Ambassadors gathered in Paris, President François Hollande publicly acknowledged that taking action in order to protect the population and to stem the destabilization of sensitive regions was legitimate and could have a real impact. We could have made the same statement…

These are security issues for the international community as a whole, but also specifically for Canada. Let me just cite Kenya where two weeks ago, two of our citizens, one of whom was a young fellow diplomat, lost their lives. Canada’s responsible and loyal support, as part of peacekeeping missions in the past, and recently in offensive or technical missions, is especially appreciated by our French ally. No later than last September, a very high-ranking French official stated to his Canadian counterpart that “The French people will never forget what Canada achieved with us in Mali”. And France’s ongoing commitment under François Hollande to remain within NATO further boosts our alliance and brings us even closer.

One cannot speak of France without mentioning the Francophonie. I know that the Secretary-General of La Francophonie spoke from this very rostrum just a few days ago. The OIF is a very valuable asset for Canada; along with France, we show great leadership in that forum. One can only think of Africa when mentioning the Francophonie, and that continent accounts for 15% of global GDP. As Forum Afrique stated last week, Africa boasts an annual rate of growth of 5%, and its francophone population will reach 600 million in 2050.

Through its history, its networks and its francophone heritage, France has very thorough knowledge of Africa. It is our leading ally on the continent. When the crisis erupted in Ivory Coast in 2011, Canada was able to rely on France’s extensive network and its in-depth knowledge of the continent to process our consular cases. Similarly, we hold regular discussions in Paris with French academics, whose excellence in the area of African studies is well recognized. These opportunities to share perspectives and knowledge are very precious.

In December, France will host the Élysee Summit, eight months after the launch by the African Union of the African Immediate Crisis-Response Capacity (AICRC). The summit will discuss ways of meeting African countries’ needs in terms of military training, supervision and materiel. In short, France’s influence is very real. And France is our gateway to Africa.

By definition, gateways work in both directions, and there are others around the world.

Our French friends are taking an ever-keener interest in Canada’s Western provinces, which offer a gateway to Asia, in particular in the area of trade. Joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations further strengthens our position in this region, and France understands the need to work more with us. Indeed, although France has strong positions in Europe, Africa and several other regions, it has not been able to break through on the Asian continent as much as it had hoped to. Canada has solid experience there, in terms of business, networks, and influence.

Lastly, there are some places around the globe where Canada and France enjoy equal positions. This is the case in Haiti, where both our countries have been involved in a close partnership to rebuild the country since 2010, when I had the pleasure and the honour of chairing, here in Montreal, a diplomatic conference with Hilary Clinton and Bernard Kouchner, amongst others.


Ladies and gentlemen,

In addition to having shared destinies and forged bonds over the centuries, notably in times of crisis and tragedy, Canada and France enjoy a highly strategic relationship. The time is right to take that relationship to a new level, to expand its horizons. In this area, the determining factor is method.

Our ambitious leaders are also pragmatists: when Prime Minister Stephen Harper came to Paris last June, our governments jointly decided to launch an Enhanced Cooperation Agenda, which provides a roadmap for implementing an extensive network of partnerships and concrete projects, facilitating the sharing of experience and beneficial influence.

The idea underpinning this initiative is that the Canada-France relationship does not only benefit our international diplomatic efforts, it also has numerous positive impacts on our respective domestic policies. In concrete terms, the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development coordinates a number of innovative programs and projects that range from resource and energy management to the environment, as well as defence, taxation and innovation for youth. But the Agenda actually goes further and supports Canadian and French companies in areas such as business development, market access and investment promotion. If one adds this federal effort to the initiatives launched by the government of Quebec, including the “nouvel élan” (“new momentum”) given to the Quebec-France relation, business players in the innovation and creative industries have many useful instruments at their disposal.

In the federal government, this ambition conveys a very clear message. Our bilateral relationship is no longer carried solely by two Foreign Affairs ministries, but by two entire governments. President Hollande will be passing on this very same message when he visits Canada next year.


Dear friends,

Together, Canada and France are striving to forge new, modern diplomatic ties, ties that unite two countries that are bound together by their close societies, two countries that are aware that they share the same interests.

I mentioned at the outset that we would be looking to the future: I think I have sketched out some avenues, and I look forward to pursuing them in the upcoming debate.

I thank you all for your attention.





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