Canada China Business Council’s Annual General Meeting in Beijing

Address project by the Minister of International Relations, La Francophonie and External Trade, Jean-François Lisée

Merci beaucoup pour cette invitation, Monsieur le Président Harder, John Baird, cher ami. Je tiens à souligner la présence, I’d like to acknowledge Jean Charest, l’ancien Premier ministre du Québec. Voulez-vous vous lever, Monsieur Charest?

Excellencies, ambassadors in China and to Canada.

One week ago, the Québec National Assembly unanimously observed a minute of silence in memory of Paul Desmarais. Now we, and my political family, had our differences with Mr. Desmarais on some of the ideas for the future of Québec. But we had no differences concerning the fact that he was one of the greatest builders of Québec’s economy, one of the best friends of Chinese, Canadian and Québec relations, and that we owe him a lot.

This great builder died in his marvelous residence in Charlevoix, a region of Québec he loved so much. I believe he would have been happy to join us today in recognizing how the Canada-China Business Council, which he founded 35 years ago with so much foresight, is still just as useful and dynamic, if not more so, than when it was his brain child so many years ago.

I think he would also be glad to see that eighty representatives from fifty companies are joining me, just a simple minister not even a prime minister, joining a minister’s mission to four Chinese cities, and to see how this thirst for China that he was one of the first to have, has spread to all aspects of Québec society, businesses, institutions and civil society.

So I am honoured to be attending this general meeting. Our participation in these high-level discussions is an excellent opportunity to present Québec as a forward looking place where economics, education, culture and above all sustainable development are instrumental in establishing a prosperous economic and social environment.

Now John has talked about the history of strengthening the Canadian-Chinese relationship. I’m paid by Québec’s citizens, so I’m going to tout the Québec aspects of this relationship. I should mention that it was a Quebecer, Norman Bethune, who gave his life to establishing close ties between China and Québec in terms of involvement in each other’s history.

It was a Quebecer who happened to be prime minister of Canada, Pierre Trudeau, who, in 1970, decided it was time to recognize China as a legitimate member of the world’s leaders and, before the United States did so, said “Yes, China should be at the table of the great nations.”

It was a Quebecer, the premier of Québec, René Lévesque, who was the first provincial premier to come to China in 1984.

It was a Quebecer, Pierre Bourque, who laid the groundwork for one of the world’s most successful twinning of cities: the twinning of Shanghai and Montréal.

It was a Quebecer, Premier Lucien Bouchard who, in 1997, really gave a clear impetus to a renewed relationship between Québec and China by leading a very large delegation here. I think there were about one hundred twenty-five of us. I was an advisor to Mr. Bouchard and I was part of that delegation. In the end, he decided to open the first provincial offices in China, in Beijing and Shanghai, and this week we’re celebrating the fifteenth anniversary of those offices.

Of course Paul Desmarais, a Quebecer, showed the way for Québec and Canadian companies in China in an extraordinary manner and then there is this other Québec company, Bombardier, which is now among the top foreign companies in China both in rail and aerospace. I know that in the next few days the Governor General will announce further contracts between China and Bombardier. The new CSeries is at the leading edge of aerospace and aircraft and is being built both in China and Québec.

We’re taking a step further in being the Canadian province that is the most involved and the most present in China. Through an agreement we have with a region of France, we now have five offices in China that help our small and midsize businesses that are somewhat fearful of spending too much and risking too much in coming to the Chinese mainland. These offices say to them: “Ok, we’ll set up an office for you. You’ll have phones and computers and secretaries and a consultant that we vouch for, and you can come for three months or six months or a year to test the waters, and then go your own way or just come back and try again sometime later.” These offices are now in operation in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Hong Kong.

Looking ahead with respect to Québec-China relations, we cannot fail to see the great compatibility between Québec’s experience and expertise, and the priorities that have been laid out by the new Chinese leadership.

Firstly in environmental initiatives: Green building is one of the areas where Québec excels. We are leaders in green technologies as evidenced by our use of wood as a low energy consumption material to build housing of up to six stories. We think wood is the future of housing, not its past and we’re here to show how it can be done, even in severe weather. We’re experts in severe weather in North America.

With respect to transportation electrification, we know that the Chinese leadership is very keen on reducing pollution in its urban areas and for good reason.

Québec is on the path to being one of the three world leaders in transportation electrification, and that applies to public transit and private transportation. This month, the current premier, Pauline Marois, is unveiling a very far-reaching and ambitious program to link up the cluster of companies that are already on the cutting edge when it comes to manufacturing batteries, engines and others parts. The goal is to make Québec a hub for manufacturing vehicles of the future and in fact, we’re looking for an auto manufacturer that would commit to making Québec its base in North America, using Québec components in cars of the future.

There is some Chinese interest in the room. You’ll have my contact information shortly.

In technology, as you may know, Montréal is a world leader in video games. Quebecers and Chinese people love to play. What’s more, we know how to play and we’re becoming increasingly sophisticated players.

We are world leaders in special effects. When the Titanic sinks or there’s a mid-air crash into the Chrysler building in New York or the Spartans fight the Persians in antiquity, it’s all really unfolding in Montréal studios.

So we’re looking forward to demolishing a few of your buildings in some of the new Chinese movies that will be playing in your area soon.

In biotechnologies, we are currently developing special expertise in what is called “personalized medicine”: using genetic knowledge to customize the treatment for the person who is receiving it. It lowers costs and increases the treatment’s effectiveness. Montréal is a leader in that area.

Now, in the past few years, you may have heard Mr. Charest say a lot of great things about the North of Québec. Well, he was right. Northern Québec is Québec’s future. We know that a number of Chinese companies are interested in coming and participating in the development of Québec’s North.

We know that stability and predictability in mining is paramount. At the beginning of the year, we reformed our royalty structure. We’re in the process of putting the final touches on a mining act, and once that’s done, we’ll have a new modern, progressive framework for decades to come.

Last week, Québec’s premier announced that a new rail link to Labrador’s mineral rich area will be built in public-private partnership.

A new airport will also be built at Mont Otish in the very near future.

Within the first year after taking office, we announced investments or invested amounts totaling a billion dollars in infrastructure in northern communities.

And I must say that the relationship between Québec and its Aboriginal population is one of the most, if not the most, peaceful, respectful and pragmatic that you’ll find in the world.

This week, together with the delegation, I visited Jinan, the capital of Shandong, with which Québec signed a unique agreement in 2008. We had the privilege of meeting the province’s vice-governor and hearing him say that he wants to step on the accelerator to have a new generation of involvement, investment and exchanges between the two provinces.

We were in Beijing to meet Chinese leaders for the eighteenth National Congress and the twelfth National People’s Congress and to further strengthen our relations and foster new economic partnerships. I’m also going to Shanghai to meet the city’s authorities with whom the cities of Montréal and Québec have agreements and where Québec fashion and Québec design will be highlighted. A whole fashion show is scheduled for Thursday night where we’ll show Shanghai’s finest some of Montréal’s finest designs.

This mission to China is the second by a Québec minister in the past twelve months since our election. The first was led by the deputy premier last November, only two months after the election.

It’s no accident that China is now our second largest trading partner, after the US of course, but even ahead of France and the UK which have been our second largest trading partners historically.

We received great news last week when the Bank of China announced the opening of a branch in Montréal. And in 2011, the Chinese government made a very good decision to open a Consulate General in Montréal with twenty-five diplomats who are working feverishly and very competently. We’re very pleased with the relationship we have built in so short of a time.

We lack one tool in this toolbox to really make it completely happen between China and Québec: a direct air link between Beijing and Montréal. We’ve been meeting with people from Air China and Air Canada over the past few weeks and yesterday with Air China. We know we have the support of the federal government and Chinese authorities to make this happen. And we’re looking forward, Excellency, to taking the first Montréal-Beijing flight or return flight, whichever you choose, but we’re looking forward to doing that.

In closing, I want to stress that this relationship between Québec and China is one that is anchored in the past. Earlier, I talked about Norman Bethune. During the Revolution sixty-five years ago, sixty years ago, sixty-five years ago, how many years ago was it? In 49, the largest foreign delegation of expatriates in China was composed of Quebecers: Seminarians, Jesuits. The Mao government decided to keep them around for a while because it needed them to educate the Chinese republic’s first generations of cadres.

We have been part of the inception of the great country that is China today.

We want to be part of its future.

Thank you very much.

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