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Brian Mulroney Should Be Recognized For Increasing The Impact Of The Francophonie

The Oasis Reporters

March 19, 2024

 

 

 

 

 

 

Former prime minister Brian Mulroney receives the National Order of Québec from Québec Premier Bernard Landry in May 2002 during a ceremony at the Québec legislature. (CP PHOTO/Jacques Boissinot)




Christophe Premat, Stockholm University

The Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, commonly known as the Francophonie, represents French-speaking countries and regions worldwide.

 

Despite enduring criticism about its bureaucratic nature, the Francophonie’s origins date back to the establishment of the first multilateral francophone agency in Niger in March 1970 and was born of political debate and consensus.

 

The Francophonie,
which celebrates the 26th anniversary of international French Language Day on March 20, was originally meant to limit itself to a role of cultural and linguistic promotion and avoid any diplomatic conflict.

 

Following Gen. Charles de Gaulle’s outspoken statements on a free Québec in 1967, Pierre Trudeau’s government was hostile to the presence of an autonomous Québec delegation at the Francophonie’s international meetings.

 

Although French centrist President Giscard d’Estaing was committed to a rapprochement with Canada, diplomatic relations between France, the Francophonie and the Canadian government remained frosty — until the late Brian Mulroney became prime minister.

 

A political transition in France and Canada

 

When François Mitterrand came to power in France in 1981, the aim was to give the Francophonie a more assertive geopolitical role.

 

In Canada, Brian Mulroney won the Progressive Conservative Party leadership and became a federal MP after winning a byelection in Nova Scotia in 1983. A year later, he became prime minister in a landslide victory.

 

Mulroney’s roots in Baie Comeau and his acknowledgement of Québec’s distinctiveness set the stage for improved relations between Canada, Québec and France. His tenure as prime minister marked a pivotal shift in Canada’s approach to the Francophonie and its relations with France.

 

His 2007 book, Memoirs, also revealed his respect for Mitterrand, who wanted to undo some of the damage De Gaulle caused to France-Canada relations. He also discussed his intent to brush aside Trudeau’s legacy of choosing a strategy of confrontation between Canada and Québec.

 

 

 

Mitterrand sent his prime minister, Laurent Fabius, to Canada in November 1984 to strengthen ties between the two countries.

 

Fabius began by sweeping aside the Gaullist legacy with a “Vive le Canada!” This approach was used again by Mitterrand to restore balance to France-Canada relations.

 

The Versailles summit

 

The first Francophonie summit took place in Versailles in 1986 and Canada played a significant role. The organization had been careful in the 1970s to avoid causing further tensions between Québec and Canada, but the election of Mulroney was a clear signal to move forward with the multilateral organization.

 

For Mulroney, Canada’s participation in the first Francophonie summit symbolized global recognition of the country’s multiculturalism. This is why he made sure to convince the provinces of Québec and New Brunswick to attend the summit.

 

Lucien Bouchard, Canada’s ambassador to France at the time, was active behind the scenes of the first summit in an effort to bring France and Canada closer together. In Memoirs, Mulroney paid tribute to Bouchard’s hard work in preparing for the summit.

 

Many experts believe the Versailles summit strengthened the geopolitical impact of the Francophonie’s institutions.

 

The heads of state and government who gathered in Versailles in 1986 accepted Mulroney’s proposal to host a second summit in Québec. For Mulroney, it was only natural that Québec should have a prominent role in the francophone world.

 

The Québec City summit

 

The second Francophonie summit in 1987 in Québec City also presented an opportunity to build closer ties between the province and the rest of Canada.

 

Mulroney fostered friendly relations with Robert Bourassa when he was premier of Québec although he made clear that even if the province of Québec had close links to francophone nations, only the Canadian prime minister could speak on behalf of Canada during Francophonie summits.

 

The year 1987 was, in fact, significant in terms of Mulroney’s international leadership. He also hosted the 1987 Commonwealth Summit in Vancouver, where he used his diplomatic skills to further condemn the apartheid regime of South Africa.

 

For Mulroney, both the Francophonie and the Commonwealth were arenas that could easily serve to convey strong diplomatic messages to the world.

 

As Mulroney prepared for the Québec City Francophonie summit, the Meech Lake Accord recognized the province as a distinct society. While the agreement ultimately never took effect, it revealed Mulroney’s commitment to reconciliation between French and English Canada.

 

Recognizing Québec’s distinctiveness and taking an active role in the institutions of the Francophonie were, in fact, part of the same Mulroney agenda.

 

Proud Canadian and Francophile

 

In subsequent Francophonie summits, Canada’s declarations were often adopted by the other francophone nations. That included a call to erase a portion of the public debt of African members of the Francophonie at the Dakar summit in 1989.

 

Jean-Marc Léger, a former journalist and the first general secretary of the Francophonie’s Agency for Cultural and Technical Cooperation, is rightly regarded as one of the architects of the creation of the Francophonie, alongside its founders Léopold Sédar Senghor, Hamani Diori, Prince Norodom Sihanouk and Habib Bourguiba.

 

Mulroney should undoubtedly be added to this list. The late prime minister was among them in transforming the organization into the substantive geopolitical entity that it is today.

 


 

This is a corrected version of a story originally published on March 12, 2024. The earlier story incorrectly stated the Francophonie was celebrating its 26th anniversary on March 20, 2024. In fact, the Francophonie is celebrating the 26th anniversary of international French Language Day.The Conversation

 

Christophe Premat, Associate Professor in French Studies (cultural studies), head of the Centre for Canadian Studies, Stockholm University

 

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

 

Greg Abolo

Blogger at The Oasis Reporters.

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