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Recognition of the Québec Nation

Recognition of the specificity of Québec remains an unresolved issue in Canadian federalism. This is one of Québec’s major recurrent demands, which include a limitation on federal spending power in Québec’s fields of jurisdiction and the granting of additional powers in the areas of culture and communications. The aim of these demands is to enable Québec to implement public policies that correspond with its specific priorities.  

There is no common definition of the concepts of nation, people, or distinct society; these concepts therefore must be clearly defined, in terms of both their scope and their legal consequences. To the Government of Québec, the terms “Québec nation” and “the people of Québec” are not limited to Francophones; they include all individuals residing in Québec. Furthermore, only constitutional entrenchment would ensure the sustainability of the desired legal consequences. In 2014, in an important decision in constitutional law, the Supreme Court of Canada referred to the existence of “Quebec’s distinct legal traditions and social values.”1

Historically, the inclusion of Québec’s specificity in the Constitution has been approached through multilateral negotiations, in which the federal government and the other Canadian provinces participate. For example, the 1987 Meech Lake Accord foresaw the inclusion in the Constitution of a clause stipulating that any constitutional interpretation had to be consistent with the recognition of Québec as a distinct society within Canada. Moreover, the Constitution was to ensure that the Parliament and the Government of Québec would have a role in the protection and promotion of the distinct nature of Québec. This Accord, which had been ratified by the Québec National Assembly, did not receive the support of all partners in the federation, however, and thus failed.
On November 27, 2006, the House of Commons in Ottawa adopted a motion on recognition of the Québec nation. This resolution reads as follows:

“That this House recognize that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada.”

This motion did not create any specific measures favourable to Québec, nor did it translate into actions enabling Québec’s traditional demands to be adequately met. There is no legal consequence from this type of motion, which essentially remains a symbolic political gesture.2

For further information on this dossier, consult the following documents:

1. Reference re Supreme Court Act, ss. 5 and 6, 2014 SCC 21, para. 49.

2. BRUN, Henri, Guy TREMBLAY & Eugénie BROUILLET, Droit constitutionnel, 6th edition, Éditions Yvon Blais, 2014, para. IV. 90.