Updated: Nov 6, 2021
By: Luke Montalbano
Premier Robert Bourassa is the primary architect of the current constitutional framework of Quebec. His government introduced numerous organic statutes that currently compose the Quebec constitution. Photo Credit: The Montreal Gazette
In May of 2021, an explosive document, Bill 96, was tabled by the Coalition Avenir Québec to unilaterally amend the constitution of Québec and, in turn, Canada, using Section 45 of the British North America Act. Among anglophone Québecers and Western provinces, many critics arose and questioned the intentions of the Legault government in their attempt to amend the constitution. But what constitution are they really amending?
All provinces have their own constitution, this is outlined in the British North America Act, but the only province to have a consolidated, written constitution is British Columbia. All other provinces have a group of statutes that compose their constitution. In Québec, the constitution is vaguely defined and the texts it is composed of often change depending on which party is asked. For the most part, the common consensus is that Bill 101, the Québec Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and several other organic statutes constitute a quasi-constitutional framework for the predication of the provincial institutions of Québec.
The Québec Charter of Rights and Freedoms holds many of the same principles as the Canadian Constitution Act, 1982. That is, it grants similar social, judicial, political, and economic fundamental rights and freedoms, as well as endorsing affirmative action programs. Bill 101, also known as the Charter of the French Language, defines French as the official language of the province of Québec and outlines the language rights in the National Assembly, the court system, the workplace, and public spaces in Québec. In general, the primary concern of the Bill is to protect and defend the culture of Québec through the promotion and defence of the language.
Due to the vague understanding of what truly comprises the Québec constitution, MNAs and political parties in Québec have deliberated for decades upon the possible proposal of a written constitution but no concrete action has been truly taken. In recent months, it has been speculated that the Parti Liberal du Québec is in the midst of drafting proposals for a written constitution which will compound portions of most, or all, of the current statutes that create the unwritten constitution. But with the PLQ significantly trailing the CAQ in the polls and Premier Legault showing no interest in a written constitution, it is likely that, like before, these proposals will be consigned to oblivion.
But would a constitution of Québec succeed in the Canadian federation? Former Premier of Québec, Jean Charest, said in an address at Yale University that it would mean “more fractionalizing” of Québec. By entrenching separate rights of certain groups in Québec, it gives a mandate for the creation of battle lines between people, especially between anglophones and francophones. With these two groups having simmered into a more peaceful state, many bring up the question: is it really worth the fracturing of a community which has finally begun to peacefully coexist? By writing a compounded constitution, Québec may simply go through an unnecessary process to re-write all of their existing legislation. Such an undertaking would be unequivocally ineffectual and cause unnecessary debate over superficial differences between the written and unwritten constitutions.
In final analysis, we have to consider the reverberating repercussions both at a provincial and national level if Québec was to develop a written constitution. Would the possibility of factionalization and national fracture be worth it? But is the current quasi-constitutional framework effective in its role? These are questions that no one seems to agree on but in the end, no one wants to do anything about. It appears, as has always been the case in Québec, that a written constitution will always be considered, but never truly put on the table.
Written by Politics Writer Luke Montalbano