As speaker for Bridgewater State's 12th Distinguished Canadian Annual Address, Dr. Pierre Marc Johnson, former head of the government of Québec, discussed political discourse and national identity in his country and province.
Dr. Johnson, a lawyer and physician, is chief negotiator for the Québec government in the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) of the Canada-European Union. His talk, titled, "Québec Stakes in a Canada-European Union Agreement," was sponsored by Bridgewater's Canadian Studies Program and the government of Québec.
It was one of many events held on campus to celebrate International Education Week.
Canada is ruled by a parliamentary democracy, where the prime minister chooses a primarily one-party cabinet and must retain a majority vote in the House of Commons to continue presiding over the country, which Dr. Johnson said has its advantages. "It allows governments to have a real legacy, as they spend some time in power and have kept the confidence of the House," he said.
However, the system also lacks transparency, as political debates occur primarily in caucus, meaning closed meetings between cabinet members. "They [the caucus members] have the great advantage of being behind closed doors, but it is a great disadvantage for the public," said Dr. Johnson.
Although sometimes negatively perceived as divisive, Dr. Johnson said nationalism in Québec reflects an idea of collective national identity through art and cultural preservation. "In other words, nationalism is not necessarily separatism. It is often associated with emotion, but a sound mind can comprehend it with serenity," he said.
In addition, Dr. Johnson spoke about the diverse historical roots of his predominantly French-speaking province. "Québec's history has far more to do with the United States than it does with France," he said. "One may say that French Canadians secured their future through the Québec Act thanks to the American Revolution."
The Québec Act of 1774 expanded the territory of the province, set in place lasting governmental procedures and guaranteed the freedom to practice Catholicism.
Dr. Johnson is co-author of The Environment and NAFTA: Understanding and Implementing the New Continental Law (1995) and Beyond the Trade: The Case for a Broadened International Governance Agenda (2000). He is Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and grand officer of both the Ordre de le Pleiade and the Ordre National du Québec. (Story and photo by Rob Matheson, '07, Office of Institutional Communications; video by Moakley TV Studio)