Key Speeches

Delivered by Canadian Prime Ministers on federalism, national unity and linguistic duality: 2008 to 1842

  • 2008  Stephen Harper,  Statement on the 400th Anniversary of Québec City

    « Rare are the North-American cities that can celebrate such a glorious past. 1608 is a historical date for you, for the province of Quebec and for all of Canada, because July 3rd, 1608, exactly 400 years ago today, really marks the beginning of what we have become today. »
  • 2006  Stephen Harper,  Open Federalism

    « The time has come to establish a new relationship with the provinces - a relationship that is open, honest, respectful. (.) It is about collaboration - with every level of government - and being clear about who does what and who is accountable for it. »
  • 2006  Stephen Harper,  The Québécois Form a Nation Within a United Canada

    « (…) the Québécois (…) know they have contributed to Canada’s founding, development and greatness. They know they have preserved their unique language and culture and promoted their values and interests within Canada. The question is a straightforward one: do the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada? The answer is yes. Do the Québécois form a nation independent from Canada? The answer is no, and it will always be no. »
  • 1999  Jean Chrétien,  Opening Plenary of the International Conference on Federalism

    « For the first time (.) practitioners or experts of federalism - are coming together from around the world to compare experiences and to learn from one another about federalism. (.) Over two billion people live in some sort of federal country. The large majority of people in democracies around the world live in some form of federal system. »
  • 1999  Jean Chrétien,  Ceremony Marking the Creation of Nunavut

    « (.) Canadians of the south have come to recognize the right of Northern people to take control of their destiny. As a nation, we have come to understand that our country is made up of different communities. Each with a unique identity and unique values. (.) The new Government of Nunavut will reflect this diversity; incorporating the best of Inuit traditions and a modern system of open and accountable public government. »
  • 1995  Jean Chrétien,  Address to the Nation (on the eve of the Quebec referendum on sovereignty),

    « Tonight, in particular, I want to speak to my fellow Quebecers. Because, at this moment, the future of our whole country is in their hands (.). What is at stake is our country. What is at stake is our heritage. To break up Canada or build Canada. To remain Canadian or no longer be Canadian. To stay or to leave. This is the issue of the referendum
  • 1980  Pierre-Elliott Trudeau,  Speech prior to the Québec Referendum on Sovereignty-Association

    « There are very few examples in the history of democracy of one part of a country choosing to decide (.) whether, yes or no, it wants to be part of the country to which it has always belonged (...) The answer is no to those who advocate separation rather than sharing, to those who advocate isolation rather than fellowship (.) . We won't let this country die (.). We are going to say to those who want us to stop being Canadians, we are going to say a resounding, an overwhelming no. »
  • 1968  Pierre-Elliott Trudeau,  Statement on the Introduction of the Official Languages Bill

    « The Official Languages Bill is a reflection of the nature of this country as a whole, and of a conscious choice we are making about our future (.) . We believe in two official languages and in a pluralist society not merely as a political necessity but as an enrichment. We want to live in a country in which French Canadians can choose to live among English Canadians and English Canadians can choose to live among French Canadians without abandoning their cultural heritage. »
  • 1963  Lester B. Pearson,  Speech to Association des hebdomadaires de langue française du Canada

    « Canada is rich and privileged in more ways than one, but above all because it is the repository and the beneficiary of two great cultures. (.)It is necessary to recognize, that our country is primarily formed of two peoples and that these two peoples must have equal rights and an equal opportunity in the expansion and also the direction of their economy. (.)We have already taken the actions for not only officially recognizing the French language in the Government of Canada, but even more, this is what is important, that it be used more and more commonly. We want French to be able to be used just as easily as English in all the sectors of the federal administration. »
  • 1949  Louis Saint-Laurent,  Address on the Entry of Newfoundland in the Canadian Federation

    In 1864, Newfoundland delegates attended the Quebec Conference during which discussions on the possibility of a federal union of the British North American colonies took place. But Newfoundland chose not to join the colonies of United Canada, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick to form a new federation in 1867. More than 80 years, in 1949, the oldest British colony in North America became the tenth Canadian province.
  • 1927  William Lyon Mackenzie King,  Celebration of the Diamond Jubilee of Confederation, Parliament Hill, Ottawa, 1st July, 1927

    « In seeking to be worthy of our past, to build wisely in the present, how can we do better than to remain true to the spirit of those whom we honour to-day; not the Fathers of Confederation alone, but that long procession of discoverers and explorers. pioneers and settlers, sailors and soldiers, missionaries and traders; the men and women who have hewn their homes from the forests, who have developed our resources, fashioned our industries, extended our commerce; the moulders of thought and opinion and ideals in the realm of letters and art and government; that vast unnumbered company, long since gathered to their fathers and now resting from their labours, whose courage and daring, whose heroic purpose and steadfast endurance, whose vision and wisdom, manifested in a multitude of ways, have created a record of achievement unequalled in the romance, and unsurpassed in the pageantry of history. » [1]
  • 1878  John A. Macdonald,  On the National Policy

    «... The resolution speaks not only of a reasonable adjustment of the tariff but of the encouragement and development of interprovincial trade. That is one of the great objects we should seek to attain. Formerly, we were a number of Provinces which had very little trade with each other, and very little connection, except a common allegiance to a common Sovereign, and it is of the greatest importance that we should be allied together. I believe that, by a fair readjustment of the tariff, we can increase the various industries which we can interchange one with another, and make this union a union in interest, a union in trade, and a union in feeling. We shall then grow up rapidly a good, steady and mature trade between the Provinces, rendering us independent of foreign trade, and not, as New Brunswick and Nova Scotia formerly did, look to the United States or to England for trade, but look to Ontario and Quebec, -- sending their products west, and receiving the products of Quebec and Ontario in exchange. » [2]
  • 1877  Wilfrid Laurier,  To The French Canadians

    « We are a free and happy people; and we are so owing to the liberal institutions by which we are governed, institutions which we owe to the exertions of our forefathers and the wisdom of the mother country. [3] »
  • 1865  John A. MacDonald,  On Federalism

    Upon returning from the Charlottetown Conference, the delegates from the Province of Canada debated the proposals for a union of the British North American colonies in their legislature. These excerpts from a speech by John. A. MacDonald give an insight into the two main proposals for union and why a federal union was deemed the best option.
  • 1864  Wilfrid Laurier,  Speech, Graduation Ceremony, McGill University, Montreal

    During the graduation ceremony, Wilfrid Laurier – who had been chosen to deliver the valedictory address to his fellow law students – spoke solely in French, which had never happened before:  "(…) Two races share today the soil of Canada. I can say the following, because times have changed: the English and French populations have not always been on friendly terms, but I wish to add, and this is to our glory, racial fights no longer take place on our Canadian soil; there is here no other family than the human family, whatever the language we speak, the altar before which we kneel. Every day we rediscover the happy effects of this sacred work – and in this solemnity we again have a new proof of it; you have heard here that French names and English names have been added to honour roll, you have heard someone speak to you in English, and now I am speaking to you in my mother tongue, I am speaking to you in French.  " (Translation) [4] He continued by describing the advantages of the English and French legal systems.
  • 1842  Louis-Hyppolyte La Fontaine, On the French language rights, Parliament of United Canada.

    MP from Canada East, L.-H. La Fontaine formed coalition governments with Robert Baldwin, from Canada West. La Fontaine is well known for his contribution to the advent of responsible government. Less known, is his role in having French recognized in the Parliament of United Canada.
    • 1791-1840: use of English and French in the of legislative assembly of Lower Canada; use of English in the assembly of Upper Canada.
    • 1840: section 41 of the Union Act - which united Upper Canada and Lower Canada into United Canada - stipulated that only English was the official language in the parliament of United Canada; the French language was not prohibited in debates.
    • 1842: La Fontaine - in response to an MP criticizing him for speaking in French- made a statement reaffirming French language rights.
    • 1848: Section 41 was repealed and French recognized in the parliament of United Canada.
    Regarding the speech, the historian Lionel Groulx wrote: "It was an historic moment for us when on September 13, 1842, a son of our race stood up in Parliament in Kingston and, (…), dared to speak in French. That moment in 1842 may have determined our future. " (Translation)[5]

  1. Proceedings of the Annual Convocation of the McGill University, Montreal, Held on Tuesday, the 3rd, and Wednesday, the 4th of May, 1864, pages 38 et 39.
  2. Quoted in : Brunet, Michel, et al., Histoire du Canada par les textes, Montréal, Fides, 1956, page 170.
  3. From :  Lamonde, Yvan et Claude Corbo, Le rouge et le bleu,  PUM Montréal, 1999,  page 257.
  4. Proceedings of the Annual Convocation of the McGill University, Montreal, Held on Tuesday, the 3rd, and Wednesday, the 4th of May, 1864, pages 38 et 39.
  5. Quoted in : Brunet, Michel, et al., Histoire du Canada par les textes, Montréal, Fides, 1956, page 170.