Québec-Canada agreement on UNESCO
“Today, we are making history. This first step in a new era of partnership between our two governments touches on an international issue. What was once an implicit coexistence has become explicit cooperation.”
Jean Charest, Premier of Québec, May 5, 2006
The May 5, 2006 agreement between the Government of Québec and the Government of Canada concerning the United Nations Education, Science and Culture Organization (UNESCO) was an unprecedented step forward, placing it among the most decisive initiatives in Québec's international relations history.
An Unprecedented Acknowledgment
Its historic nature is first demonstrated by the text's explicit recognition “that the specificity of Québec leads it to play a special role internationally.” This recognition applies to all of Québec's international partners, and was not only a change in tone, but a change in era.
A First: Québec is Part of the UN
The agreement establishes a formal role for Québec as part of the United Nations, another historic first. It follows up on a request submitted by each of Québec's successive governments over the past four decades. Québec's presence as a full participating member of the Permanent Delegation of Canada to UNESCO is now an established fact—Québec can express its own voice.
A Permanent Representative
The agreement provides for the nomination and subsequent official appointment of Québec's Permanent Representative to Canada's mission to UNESCO. The nomination is made by the Government of Québec. Its physical presence in the Canadian mission is essential for three reasons: first, to guarantee its immediate access to all of UNESCO's official documents; second, to be able to participate in cooperative efforts initiated by the agreement between the Government of Québec and the Canadian government before Canada takes a position or votes; and thirdly, to be able to vote for government representatives of international organizations.
A Right to Free Speech in all UNESCO Bodies
Québec's permanent representative to UNESCO is the centerpiece of Québec's daily involvement at UNESCO. However, it is not the only party that can act on Québec's behalf at UNESCO conferences, proceedings, and meetings. The agreement specifies that Québec is represented “in full and according to its wishes” in all Canadian delegations, in all UNESCO bodies. When it deems suitable and when circumstances warrant, the government can be represented by a member of the Cabinet authorized to deliver its message. Québec is guaranteed a voice during Canada's allotted time.
According to the rules of international law, a UNESCO-accredited national ambassador takes on the role of mission leader. Thus, the agreement evokes the “general direction of the Canadian mission as a whole” entrusted to the Canadian ambassador. Québec's position is developed according to the Ministère des Relations internationales et de la Francophonie in conjunction with the concerned sectoral departments.
An Unprecedented Cooperation Mechanism
Québec's successive governments have relentlessly championed their hope to be consulted prior to Canadian interventions in multilateral fora. The agreement stipulates that the two governments “will work in concert on all votes, resolutions, negotiations and proposed international instruments at UNESCO.”
Another Precedent: the Federal Government Must Explain its Disagreement
The agreement also addresses situations in which a consensus cannot be reached during a meeting. The method for managing any such discrepancy is noteworthy: The federal government is responsible for ultimately justifying itself to Québec, not the inverse. In the event of an impasse, the Government of Québec “alone will decide if it proceeds with implementation in areas of its responsibility.” Québec's choice of whether to carry out an international commitment within its scope of responsibility is the crowning jewel of its international relations policy. The agreement solidifies this legal authority and formalizes the federal government's assent. Québec has always maintained that its approval remains key to implementation, and the agreement is careful to honor this point of view.
A Québec Seat on the Canadian Commission for UNESCO
Lastly, the agreement gives Québec the responsibility to “initiate a mechanism for consulting Québec experts, both in government and civil society.” The result of these consultations is conveyed by the Government of Québec to the federal government and to the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, which then report to UNESCO. In addition, a representative of the Ministère des Relations internationales et de la Francophonie du Québec now sits on the Executive Committee to the Canadian Commission for UNESCO—another precedent.
An Historic Agreement with Perpetual Gains
It is important to remember that the federal government officially recognizes Québec's international role through this agreement. It is a groundbreaking role—for the first time, Québec has a voice within the United Nations.
See Québec-Canada agreement on UNESCO(82 KB)
Press Release – Premier's Office (in French)
Last update: 2017-03-17 3:07:44 PM