TORONTO—Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard appealed for national unity in an historic speech to the Ontario legislature, and touted Canada’s two largest provinces as leaders of the country’s future economic development.
“When Ontario’s economy is strong, all of Canada benefits,” he said. “And when Quebec and Ontario work together to forge a strong economy, when they display imagination and dare to go even further, then everything becomes possible.”
Quebec and Ontario account for more than 60 per cent of Canada’s population and almost 60 per cent of its gross domestic product, he said.
The last premier from outside the province to address the Ontario legislature was Quebec’s Jean Lesage in 1964, who predicted that government relations would shift from vertical—federal to provincial—to horizontal, meaning province to province.
“This vision has been realized,” Couillard said to cheers from all sides of the legislature and the packed public galleries. Former prime minister John Turner and former NDP premier and one-time federal Liberal leader Bob Rae were among the dignitaries attending Couillard’s speech.
Speaking in both English and French, Couillard said Lesage and then-Ontario premier John Robarts fought to increase the role of the provinces in the federation.
Premier Kathleen Wynne praised Couillard for his willingness to partner with Ontario on climate change, inter-provincial trade and electricity sharing agreements.
Couillard called Wynne’s plan to join a cap-and-trade system under the Western Climate Initiative with Quebec “excellent news,” and said his government expected to generate $3 billion by 2020 through its carbon market auctions.
“What I want to emphasize here is that putting a price on carbon is a logical choice,” said Couillard. “Increasingly adopted here and abroad, it is also a choice that will yield concrete results.”
Ontario, Quebec and California will create the largest carbon market in North America and “have good reasons to hope that others will follow suit,” he added.
The two premiers have banded together to press Prime Minister Stephen Harper to take more action to deal with climate change, and raised the same environmental concerns about the proposed Energy East pipeline project.
“Ontario and Quebec are working together to build a stronger central Canada, and thereby a stronger Canada,” Wynne said.
Couillard also said co-operation between the two Liberal governments is generating “promising leads” on expanding inter-provincial trade and growing the economy, and said Quebec wants strong relations with all provinces.