BY THE LATE RENÉ-LÉVESQUE
23RD PREMIER OF QUEBEC (IN OFFICE 1976 – 1985)
The following remarks were made by the late René Lévesque, Premier of Quebec, on the occasion of His Highness the Aga Khan’s Silver Jubilee visit to Montreal between April 24-26, 1983. The speech appeared in French and English in a special Silver Jubilee souvenir published by His Highness Prince Aga Khan Regional Council for Quebec and Maritime Provinces.
“The colossal work which you achieve day after day towards a better living standard in the most deprived countries is not unknown to us. The spirit on which this action is based is amongst the purest expressions of human fraternity. I wish with all my heart that on the occasion of your visit not only do we become more clearly aware of the extent of the mission you carry out, that you have set for yourself, but also that we remember it as a lesson, if I may say of ‘savoir-vivre’, a true way of living in a world that needs it so badly.” — René Lévesque addressing the Aga Khan on the occasion of his Silver Jubilee.
I am delighted, for many reasons, with your visit here on the banks of the Saint-Lawrence where, almost four and a half centuries ago, a francophone America was born, a minority “America” in numbers, but which remains no less lively, dynamic and confident of the future. Of course, four and a half centuries of history is very little compared to the millenary tradition that you incarnate. But as far as North America is concerned, speaking in North American terms, I think you know that it takes us back 450 years, directly to the origins of colonization. This old corner of America, thanks you deeply for having included us in the more than heavy itinerary of your Jubilee year. We also know that our co-citizens of Ismaili faith, as you told me, I think Ismailis is the right way of saying it, consider your too short a visit to us as a moment of deep joy and we rejoice with them for the honour you have given us in allowing us to welcome you.
It is said, perhaps too generously, that Quebec’s hospitality is warm and spontaneous. I must say that having had the opportunity of talking with you, of briefly discussing the work you pursue with exemplary persistence, that you are yourself a very spontaneous and extremely warm man. We would like to keep you longer with us. Besides, it is the essential quality of faith and civilization that you represent of constantly having an open mind and the hospitality towards others, which you raise to a universal dimension. And that, Your Highness, you personally incarnate.
The colossal work which you achieve day after day towards a better living standard in the countries, and most of the time, in the most deprived countries, wherever you can, is not unknown to us. The spirit on which this action is based is amongst the purest expressions of human fraternity. This relates to what we, in the West, call humanity and I wish with all my heart that on the occasion of your visit not only do we become more clearly aware of the extent of the mission you carry out, that you have set for yourself, but also that we remember it as a lesson, if I may say of “savoir-vivre”, a true way of living in a world that needs it so badly.
The attention that you constantly give to issues on education, health, housing, affect the foundation, the changes of life itself, in all societies and especially in the most disillusioned societies, and God knows how many there are of those in the world.
You carry out your activities in more than 25 countries throughout the world including ours, and I wish to underline publicly, and I hardly apologize for underestimating your modesty, I wish to underline publicly that this intervention is as much characterized by an open mind to the diversity of cultures and religious convictions of people. Without a sense of tolerance, there is no hope for the future of humanity and alas, we get proof of it almost every day. We have to hope that examples such as yours become more and more convincing and communicable.
There is also another field where your experiences or the way you use your power is particularly worth remembering and can serve as an example to the people of Quebec here. Please allow me to quote here a few of your grandfather’s words when he designated you as his successor.
“I am convinced,” he said, “that it is in the best interest of the Shia Muslim Ismaili Community that I should be succeeded by a young man who has been brought up and developed during recent years and in the midst of the new age and who brings a new outlook on life to his office as Imam.”
You have successfully faced this challenge and your achievements are a proof of adaptation to new circumstances and today, your community has made this transition which was extremely difficult, and in which you succeeded admirably. These profound changes which you undertook, which you guided since 1957 did not prevent the maintenance with all their strength of the fundamental values and the essential traditions as well as the beliefs of your community. And this is again, an example from which many societies in the world could and should inspire themselves and we also have a lesson to learn from that flexibility. I mean that societies that are faced with the challenge of change and the double requirements it always carries, that is not only to adapt, of course, but also to adapt without weakening or losing one’s identity, that is that very difference which contributes to the richness of the world.
Your Highness, I do not intend, in these few moments to pronounce a panegyric to you, but simply to express to you what we in Quebec remember as the essence of your hard work over 25 years and to tell you that we too feel the benefits of it here. I therefore join all those here representing constituted bodies, with all my heart, your co-citizens of Ismaili faith in wishing that your active presence to the service of humanity and civilization, in the true sense of the word be ensured to us for a long time to come. I myself can assure you of the sincere friendship of the people of Quebec and whatever be the drink served, I would request everyone to raise his glass to the health of their Highnesses and to the success of your humanitarian enterprises.
Date posted: April 9, 2017.
Last updated: April 26, 2021 (Formatting)
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René-Lévesque, was the founder of Parti Québécois and as its leader and the Premier of the Province of Quebec led the “Yes” side to the first referendum on Quebec’s political independence from Canada in 1980. His side lost the referendum by a wide margin.
He had risen to political prominence in the 1960s, after pursuing law, which he did not finish, and working as a reporter, during a global era of radical and often violent nationalism and took Quebec’s separatist movement, which was dominated by hardliners and gave it to the everyday people of the province. He pursued his objective in the legislature, and respected the democratic process. When his side lost the referendum he accepted the result and urged Quebeckers to find ways of working with the federal government. When he resigned as PQ leader in 1985, it was partly to protest the party’s move toward a more hardline position. However until his very last days before his death in 1987, he continued to believe on the notion of an independent Quebec.
(Profile compiled from The Globe and Mail and Wikipedia).