Letter to Martin Peron | Journalism

Hello Madam Secretary, At the end of the pandemic, you have highlighted the diplomatic “rush” that accompanies the reopening of diplomatic relations around the world. You also expressed your great desire for Quebec to be a part of this fizz. I’m very happy about it, but I have a few ideas to share with you.

Let’s start with an anecdote.

In January 2018, along with six other mayors from across Canada, I was invited to Washington to advocate for the North American Free Trade Agreement, now called the Canada-US-Mexico Agreement.⁠1. We were invited to meet with mayors in the United States with whom we had economic relationships to highlight the consequences of repealing NAFTA for our cities and theirs. We’re told that President Trump has been more sensitive to articles in local US newspapers than to expert advice. According to our hosts, we were getting along.

Another little memory.

Digging through my old Mayor’s diary, we see that it was only between January and March 2020 (the pandemic stopped everything), that I met with the Taiwanese ambassador to discuss possible partnerships with the Cybersecurity Innovation District. The French Consulate to talk about culture and (again) cybersecurity. In particular, the Ambassador of Mexico discussed the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), whose sole institutional presence in Canada is in Gatineau. Incidentally, UNAM is one of the largest universities in the Americas, and has a student population equal to the number of citizens of Gatineau: 300,000. Finally, during the same period, I met the Mongolian ambassador who wanted to explore the possibility of establishing links with the University of Quebec in Outaouais.

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The presence of Gatineau on the borders of the capital gives it a strategic ability to operate that is not known in your ministry, and it is not the only one.

Everywhere in Quebec, and not just in the big cities, municipalities have developed a certain international expertise. Here are some examples.

Photo archive press

Drone from the Alma Drone Center of Excellence (CED)

Thanks to its Center of Excellence in Drones, the city of Alma (and former Mayor Mark Aslin) has one of the best networks of contacts in North America in the drone field.

Drummondville has been recruiting overseas for decades and has developed a wealth of experience in the field.

Shawinigan and her mayor, who are fans of socioeconomics, have an impressive network out there in the field.

Gatineau is part of a global network of coexistences whose police are trained in Haiti.

Cities are also wise enough to take assignments outside from time to time to get inspired by what is being done better elsewhere.

Of course, there is our capital and city that anchors its international activities. Moreover, if Quebec is the first province in Canada to maintain privileged relations with the Chinese central government, this is especially due to the links established between Montreal and Shanghai at the time of the Chinese “open cities”.⁠2.

The conclusion of all this? For Quebec International’s work to be stronger, cities must be a privileged partner of the Quebec government: they already have experience.

Imagine if all the mayors, in meetings here and abroad, conveyed the same messages as the Quebec government regarding our strategic interests. Our strike force will double.

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Here I am speaking only of elected officials, accompanied by civil servants in meetings here and abroad. Imagine if they were trained by your ministry. We don’t do any of that now. Even worse, the Quebec Institute of Diplomacy is training your staff, but it still cannot accept the training of elected officials and municipal officials.

Cities have voices, but they also have experience that we can put to the service of our partners abroad. In their areas of competence, the cities of Quebec compare favorably with those of many countries. Countries like the Netherlands also use their own municipal experts as advisors to support developing countries. The municipal potential to contribute to Quebec City’s international impact is significant…and almost entirely untapped.

I would like to conclude by saying that the trip to Washington in 2018 was organized by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM). In fact, most of the municipal actions of Quebec cities are implemented according to the priorities of the FCM and Canada.

I would therefore like to remind you of the Gérin-Lajoie doctrine, a doctrine which asserts that Quebec can, if it wishes, act directly on the international scene in the area within its jurisdiction. It’s time for Quebec to remember that municipal affairs are its responsibility and that it can use the extraordinary potential of cities to help them shine throughout the world. Canada understands this.

Thank you for taking the time to read me, and the good thoughts.

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