Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and former Quebec premier Jean Charest paid homage last week to Claude Ryan, one of Quebec’s last great Catholic intellectuals.
Ryan, who was a champion of asymmetrical federalism, often frustrated both Mulroney and Charest with his notion that Quebec required enhanced constitutional powers to promote the equality of the French-language throughout Canada.
But that didn’t stop either of them from reminiscing about him on the 10th anniversary of his death, and warmly remembering him as a great Canadian. Ryan’s memory was honored for two days at events organized by McGill University ‘s Newman Centre and The Federal Idea, a Montreal-based, non-partisan think tank.
Ryan, who was deeply influenced by the writings of Cardinal John Henry Newman, embodied the Christian values of modern Quebec. As the esteemed editor of Le Devoir for 15 years in the 1960s and 70s, and as leader of the Quebec Liberal Party in the 1980s, he was often referred to as “the secular Pope of Quebec.”
Mulroney recalled that Ryan was so highly regarded that during the 1970 October crisis English-Canada believed that he had the authority to stage a coup and replace Premier Robert Bourassa’s government. Ryan indeed did consider the idea at a meeting of his editorial board, but rejected it out of hand.
Ryan was a man of strong federalist convictions, defending individual rights, democracy and social justice. So one can only imagine what he would have to say about Quebec’s proposed Charter of Values. Charest assured those who attended a luncheon at the Sofitel Hotel that in keeping with Ryan’s views, all Quebecers have the right to ask their MNAs to explain why it is necessary to curb those freedoms.
“Give me an example of a problem which justifies you curtailing my freedom? The worst scenario is when we make laws founded on fear of another, when we make laws rooted in ignorance, when we create laws that make assumptions of other people, laws that appeal to the lowest common denominator, we have created a problem before coming up with a solution.”
Mulroney agreed that all Canadians have the right to live in a country free from discrimination.
During the panel discussion, both Charest and Mulroney said Quebec would never allow The Senate to be abolished without the consent of the National Assembly because it would go against the grain to sell out “the fundamental interests” of Quebec.
"Is there a business where, if there's a matter involving an expense account, where it would say, 'we're going to close the business?' " Charest asked, referring to the ongoing Senate expenses scandal. "That doesn't happen."