PLATTSBURGH — Quebec is very involved in the field of para-diplomacy, described as international activity that takes place at a level just below that of the federal government.
Dr. Stéphane Paquin, the inaugural Fulbright chair in Quebec studies at SUNY Plattsburgh, made that point during his recent lecture on “International Relations of Quebec and its Engagement with the United States,” given at Krinovitz Recital Hall.
Para-diplomacy has sometimes been a source of conflict with the federal government, which prefers the country to have one voice in international relations, Paquin said.
The Quebec Ministry of International Relations, Francophonie and External Commerce has 28 “mini-embassies” in 15 countries, staffed by 555 civil servants. It had a budget of $115 million in 2011-12.
The main mission on the international level is trade promotion. The delegations also work to attract direct foreign investment, promote Quebec’s image and attract talent and students to Quebec. A labor mobility agreement between Quebec and France, for example, allows certified professionals in one country to engage in the same in the other.
The province has six delegations in the United States, including one in New York City. Quebec’s first delegation in New York opened in 1940. Before that, most of the province’s trade was with Europe.
The New York connection helped when the province created HydroQuebec to bring power production under government control. Quebec ended up turning to Wall Street for funding, as most Canadian banks were opposed to the move.
The 2010-2013 Quebec Action Plan has several key parts, Paquin said, one of which is to foster trade, particularly with the United States.
He said Quebec is the No.1 trading partner with 36 of the 50 states in America.
“There is (still) a lot of room to grow for the Quebec economy in the United States,” he said, adding that the fastest growth market is with Texas.
Paquin said that in many cases, companies in Canada and the United States build products together, as is the case with Bombardier Transportation, which has a facility in Platsburgh.
Quebec played a major role in the negotiations that led to the North American Free Trade Agreement, Paquin said. It might not have been ratified without strong support from the province.
The plan also aims to ensure Quebec remains a leader regarding energy and the environment. Paquin said HydroQuebec exports about $1.4 billion worth of electricity a year.
“Quebec has been very aggressive in that market in the last 10 years.”
It will be important to see what effect increased production of oil from shale has on the province’s electricity exports, he said.
The Quebec Action Plan called on the province to contribute to the security of the North American continent. Paquin said the flow of tourists from the United States to Canada has decreased since the 9/11 terrorist attacks but continues to increase in the other direction.
Possible factors include increased border security and a stronger Canadian dollar, he said.
The two countries need to continue to find ways to improve their relationship, he said.
“Many politicians put an emphasis on what is dividing our nations rather than on what is uniting our nations.”
Dr. Christopher Kirkey, director of the university’s Center for the Study of Canada, said Paquin is the first Fulbright chair in Quebec Studies at any American university or college.
“He is the leading scholar on Quebec’s international relations, bar none,” Kirkey said.
Email Dan Heathdheath@pressrepublican.com