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Soft Power: How Quebec Uses Cultural Diplomacy

Soft Power: How Quebec Uses Cultural Diplomacy

Written by
Christine St-Pierre
May 7th, 2019

Quebec’s former minister of culture and international relations, Christine St-Pierre, has come to understand the major impact Quebec’s cultural diplomacy, or soft power, has had around the world. Drawn from a speech delivered at Library and Archives Canada on March 12, 2019.

Soft Power: How Quebec Uses Cultural Diplomacy

Photo: Adrien Olichon

“Cultural diplomacy reveals the soul of a nation.”

This statement comes from a U.S. State Department document that underlines the importance of diplomacy, or soft power. President Theodore Roosevelt said: “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” For the United States, the idea of diplomacy was conceived as the promotion of democratic values and development of the arts, science and education.

In France, formal cultural diplomacy emerged after World War II, but the concept had been introduced in the 19th century. “Culture is promoted among international institutions as an instrument of peace and stability,” wrote Marie Pierre Busson. A 1981 report from the French legislature stated: “Our arts and letters, our industrial civilization and our ideas have always held a powerful force of attraction for foreign countries.”

The very concept of diplomacy, according to American author Joseph Nye, is the ability of states “to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments.” He adds: “Soft power is the attractiveness of a country.” Quebec has understood the strength and power of cultural diplomacy in its international actions. It is a province within a federation, but that has not prevented it from developing a major international network over the last half-century. It is represented by 31 offices in 18 countries. Over the last few years, it has opened three new offices in Africa.

It is because of this cultural diplomacy that Quebec has carved out a place within l’Organisation internationale de la Francophonie. We are full members of the OIF, with equal status to Canada, France and Belgium. This comes with obligations, of course, and Quebec is one of the organization’s top five funders.

Quebec is also a partner in TV5 Monde, a network that reaches 180 million households. Our films, television programs and news offer an exceptional window on the reach of Quebec culture.

The economic value of cultural goods and services is closely linked to their intangible dimension as a carrier of meaning, identity and values.

Under Jean Charest’s government, Quebec obtained special status within the Canadian delegation to UNESCO. Having worked jointly with Ottawa as principal creators of the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, Quebec has shown undeniable leadership. What is behind Quebec’s determination to distinguish itself on the international scene? First and foremost, it’s about the survival of the French language. We are the flagship of protection of the French language in North America. Also, promoting our culture ensures that Quebec’s distinctiveness is well understood.

The Canadian Constitution lays out federal and provincial jurisdictions. Culture and education are within Quebec’s jurisdiction. Based on this, Minister Paul Gérin-Lajoie decided to expand Quebec’s activities beyond our borders in the 1960s. In other words, “what is in our jurisdiction at home is in our jurisdiction everywhere.”

The federal government has recognized Quebec’s right to conduct its own diplomacy, as it did when the Harper government supported Quebec’s presence at UNESCO.

In a 2016 speech to Montreal’s Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, on the occasion of a visit to Quebec by France’s Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, Prime Minister Trudeau recognized the importance of Quebec’s diplomacy: “I want to salute my Quebec counterparts, who exercised exemplary leadership in the planning, negotiation and promotion of the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement. This is an example of what Quebec’s diplomatic presence on the international scene can accomplish, not only to reinforce the province’s reputation abroad, but also Canada’s.”

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has also publicly acknowledged the value Quebec diplomacy adds. This has allowed us to sign almost 800 international agreements in our areas of jurisdiction. Of these, 10 per cent are in the area of culture. The most recent is the Agreement on Cultural Cooperation with the Ministry of Culture of the People’s Republic of China, signed in 2018 on the occasion of the Quebec premier’s trade mission to China. It is significant that a Chinese minister of culture would agree to meet the head of a provincial government and to open channels of exchange for our artists and cultural enterprises.

It is important to remember that culture is also a source of economic development. In 2014, Quebec’s cultural industries represented 4.3 per cent of its economy and nearly 176,000 jobs. The major economic value of cultural goods and services is closely linked to their intangible dimension: as a carrier of meaning, identity and values, culture remains a factor of inclusion and openness to diversity.

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Today, culture must also be linked to sustainability. As Michèle Stanton-Jean, Quebec’s representative on the Permanent Delegation of Canada to UNESCO, said at a 2012 conference in Paris, “The promotion of culture with a sustainability lens, notably through the preservation of cultural diversity, sustainable use of resources and support for creativity and innovation, resonates profoundly for Quebec society and its government.”

She continued: “Quebec is not alone in pursuing the objective of integrating culture and sustainable development. Indeed, it has relied on initiatives worldwide which have been expressed in different international documents, including UNESCO’s 2001 Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity and its 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. Article 13 of the Convention asks signatory states to integrate culture into their sustainability policy at every level, so as to create favourable conditions for sustainable development.”

Quebec’s Agenda 21 for culture (A21C), launched in 2011, is the Quebec government’s response to a commitment made at the time of the approval of the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions.

With the adoption of this Agenda, Quebec was recognized by UNESCO as a leader in the integration of culture and sustainable development. In 2012, jointly with France, Quebec organized an international symposium on culture and sustainable development; the City of Montreal also participated in a debate on culture and development at the General Assembly of the United Nations in 2013, and on the occasion of a meeting organized by the OIF and UNESCO in New York in 2014, the Government of Quebec presented A21C and its first outcomes.

In 2017, I launched a new international policy on behalf of Quebec, with three guidelines:

  1. Increase prosperity for Quebecers;
  2. Contribute to a more sustainable, fair and secure world;
  3. Promote Quebec’s creativity, culture, knowledge and specificity.

In introducing this policy, as in all my international meetings, I insisted on the importance of cultural links in our diplomacy. I wrote at the time: “Quebec’s actions will continue to be driven by its commitment on behalf of la Francophonie, international mobility and the promotion of its talents, as well as the affirmation of its convictions with regard to personal rights and freedoms and the respect of diversity.”

In support of this action, Quebec’s representatives around the world have a mandate to advise and organize appropriate activities for Quebec creators in each of their respective territories.

Thanks to this network, the Government of Quebec is able to support organizations, cultural enterprises, artists and writers in their international outreach projects, encouraging the exchange of expertise, technology transfers and interactions among Quebec and foreign players. This is cultural diplomacy in its most direct form.

This diplomacy may also appear in the form of concerted action based on a common cultural heritage. This is why Quebec created le Centre de la francophonie des Amériques, recognizing its responsibility towards francophone communities and its desire to mobilize and animate the vast community of francophones and francophiles in the Americas. It envisions a Francophonie on the move, supportive and inclusive, bringing together the Americas, with sustainable links that stimulate exchanges.

Cultural diplomacy can also be exercised through cities. The mayors of Quebec City, Moncton and Lafayette have launched a network of francophone and francophile cities as one example of cultural action supported by the Quebec government. Its objectives are, among others, to “showcase the richness and vitality of francophone heritage, to promote the francophone and francophile cultural environments and to develop economic and strategic alliances.”

The Franco-Route of New England, a concrete example of a project led by the network, is a tourist trail linking francophone towns between Rhode Island and Quebec, to be launched in the coming months.

Museums and libraries have an important role in the international dissemination of our culture. The UNESCO Public Library Manifesto, adopted in Paris in 1994, states that public libraries are “essential institutions for the promotion of peace and the spiritual well-being of humanity.”

The result of a merger between la Bibliothèque nationale du Québec and la Grande bibliothèque du Québec with les Archives nationales du Québec, Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (BAnQ) plays an important role in the development and international reach of Québeécois expertise and heritage. BAnQ’s international approach was honoured at the MetLib conference of the International Federation of Libraries Association (IFLA) held la Grande Bibliothèque in 2017, with the theme: Partnerships: Creating a new Vision for Libraries. MetLib is an information and exchange platform for public libraries in cities with populations of more than 400,000. This conference allowed decision-makers from large metropolitan libraries to exchange best practices, but also to put forward expertise from libraries in Quebec and Canada, and showcase the declaration of Quebec libraries, which reaffirms the essential contribution of libraries to social vitality, economic prosperity and the cultural richness of Quebec society.

The objective of cultural diplomacy is to advance our national interest, but it must be guided by certain principles: the preservation of cultural diversity, sustainable use of cultural resources, creativity and innovation.

Museums also have an important role to play when it comes to cultural diplomacy. They establish partnerships with international institutions to develop common projects, borrow collections and present exhibits from abroad. With the support of the Ministry of International Relations, Quebec’s Museums of Civilization have developed partnerships in Latin America.

A specific museum partnership that comes to mind was one in which I participated in France, along Premier Couillard, making official the entry of le Musée de la civilisation into the network of la médiathèque Micro-Folie des Mureaux. Le Musée de la civilisation became the first North American museum to gain access to digital content from many French institutions and to contribute to the reach of Quebec culture overseas.

I saw how much interest Quebec attracts abroad on the occasion of my last mission to India. In New Delhi, I discovered one of Michel Tremblay’s greatest fans, Professor Rao, director of the Centre of Quebec Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University. She was a recipient of one of the 50th-anniversary medals awarded by Quebec’s Ministry of International Relations to major personalities in Quebec and around the world who have made significant contributions to Quebec’s reach and influence. Most of the recipients were from the world of culture.

The objective of cultural diplomacy is to advance our national interest, but it must be guided by certain principles: the preservation of cultural diversity, sustainable use of cultural resources, creativity and innovation. I am proud to be able to say that Quebec not only respects the application of these principles in its international efforts, but is even a leader on many levels.

The tools of cultural diplomacy are limited only by our imagination and ambition. My dearest wish is that governments will continue to give themselves the means to achieve our collective ambitions, and that Quebec will be able to go on advancing its international interests through political and economic means, but also through its culture, a method which has proven its value over time.

This text is drawn from a speech given at Library and Archives Canada on March 12, 2019.

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