The good intentions of the PLQ

In May 2021, a consultation document was distributed to liberal activists who were beginning to work on the program that would be proposed to voters the following year.

In the hope of coaxing French speakers, its authors decided to dust off the old project of a Quebec constitution. Within the Canadian federal framework, of course. This would be “a gesture of affirmation for the Quebec nation, and above all a gesture which could anchor the PLQ as being, concretely, a progressive and nationalist party”, we could read there.

This seemed so foreign to the concerns of the Liberals that some MPs themselves seemed surprised. ” What ? A constitution that we in Quebec can create? I was completely stunned,” confided the MP for Marguerite-Bourgeoys.

It was the time when Dominique Anglade would have wanted the party to adopt the position of the Bouchard-Taylor commission on the wearing of religious symbols by state agents and when she found that the bill on the language of the government Legault did not go far enough.

The reaction of the English-speaking community, on which the re-election of the vast majority of Liberal deputies depended, however, was so negative that Mme Anglade had quickly renounced his nationalist inclinations. The Quebec constitution project had also fallen by the wayside.

The duty reported last week that the report of the PLQ revival committee co-chaired by former senator André Pratte and the MP for Bourassa-Sauvé, Madwa-Nika Cadet, will propose to the next national council to relaunch the project. It will remain to be seen what the next leader will say about it, once the Liberals have managed to find one.

It is obviously not new that we are thinking of providing Quebec with a constitution of its own. The journalist-politician-doctor Joseph-Charles Taché had the idea in 1858. More recently, the National Union, then led by Daniel Johnson senior, made the proposal in 1965. The PLQ also adopted a resolution to this effect in 1968, immediately followed by the PQ. All this remained a dead letter.

In May 1985, a working group chaired by former minister Jacques-Yvan Morin presented the Lévesque government with a preliminary draft constitution for Quebec, which received no further action. In the following years, all efforts focused instead on the renewal of federalism, then on the creation of a sovereign state.

The Chrétien-Dion Clarity Act (1999) had the effect of relaunching the debate. The Bouchard government’s response took the form of a law on fundamental rights for Quebec, which constituted a sort of embryonic constitution.

In 2003, the steering committee of the Estates General on the reform of democratic institutions recommended both a reform of the voting system and the development of a Quebec constitution.

For 20 years, the idea has been floating around without coming to fruition. It is periodically reported that the Minister of Justice, Simon Jolin-Barrette, is working on a project, but it is clearly not a priority for Prime Minister Legault.

The former Minister of Canadian Intergovernmental Affairs in the Charest government, Benoît Pelletier, was always in favor of drafting a Quebec constitution, but he never managed to convince his party of its merits. In 2008, the delegates to the PLQ congress rejected this idea, which does not prevent Mr. Pelletier from continuing to defend it.

However great their desire to get closer to French speakers, opening the debate on a Quebec constitution is not without risk for the Liberals. In 1999, they refused to support the bill on the exercise of fundamental rights in Quebec because it affirmed the integrity of its territory and its right to freely choose its political future. In their eyes, this smacked of PQ “trickery” to the fullest. The separatist threat has receded, but these questions still make some people “uncomfortable”, admits the former minister.

Inevitably, there will be fears that the affirmation of French as an official and common language will violate the rights of English speakers. Others will oppose the entrenchment of the principle of state secularism. The same causes generally produce the same effects, and the reasons which pushed Dominique Anglade to turn around still exist.

The way things are going, the PLQ will have to count once again on the non-French-speaking vote to ensure its survival. We now know that there can be a world of difference between the good intentions of the PLQ the day after one election and what it will say on the eve of the next.

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