Jean Charest, Former Premier of Quebec
“Culture must be treated on an exceptional basis in trade negotiations.”
In addition to preserving a society's identity and values, culture underpins our diversity. Our society in Quebec and the rest of Canada is based on diversity. Diversity reflects who we are: a country built largely by immigrants. Our culture in Quebec is a means of affirming our identity and the role we want to play, not only in Canada but around the world.
Guided by these beliefs, my government has supported the adoption of the International Convention on Cultural Diversity as soon as 2003 under the auspices of UNESCO, enshrining the right of states and governments to implement policies in support of culture and cultural diversity. In 2005, Quebec was the very first jurisdiction to adopt this convention. Since then, it has continued its diplomatic efforts to have the convention ratified by as many signatories as possible. To this end, Quebec also participates in the Intergovernmental Committee and the Conference of Parties within Canada’s permanent delegation to UNESCO.
Although I am a fervent proponent of free trade, I have found that international trade rules sometimes call into question the role that states and governments play in supporting culture. In my view, culture must be treated on an exceptional basis in trade negotiations. Culture is not a commercial good; it is one of the cornerstones of our identity. That is why I have always called for culture to be treated as an exceptional matter in negotiations for the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the European Union.
The preamble to the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions defines cultural diversity as “a defining characteristic of humanity” that “forms a common heritage of humanity”. These words clearly reflect the role that culture must play in international relations. Culture is a unifying force that must be preserved to enrich human exchanges through our differences as well as our similarities.