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Québec’s vision: a form of federalism that recognizes collective diversity

Current issues worldwide have led to identity withdrawal and increasing tensions in many countries. Globalization and the dynamics of economic integration are used, among other aspects, to back a growing number of specific demands. Canada has all the necessary attributes to face and deal with the challenges of the 21st century, and Québec can make a positive and significant contribution to the direction it will take in the future.

On several occasions during the last 150 years, the Government of Québec has stated a vision of federalism that makes it possible for it to affirm its national identity and therefore to assume the consequences of its own choices while participating in Canada. This vision is supported by history, and also by contemporary political thought, which sees federalism as the best way to manage the cohabitation of various national communities within a single state. This requires a federation that welcomes all dimensions of diversity, both by respecting individual diversity and recognizing collective diversity.

Québec itself already recognizes collective diversity, and this is reflected in the inclusive vision for the Québec nation. For the Government of Québec, the Québec nation is not just a society that is predominantly French-speaking. The Québec nation includes all the people living in Québec, and in particular Québec’s English-speaking community, which has certain specific rights and prerogatives, and eleven recognized Aboriginal nations. It spans a wide range of cultural diversity, nourishing the nation and the shared historical narrative through interculturalism.

The Québec vision of federalism is based on a certain number of principles:

  • Recognition of the Québec nation;
  • Respect for Québec’s areas of jurisdiction;
  • Autonomy;
  • Flexibility and asymmetry;
  • Cooperation and administrative agreements;
  • Shared institutions.

Recognition of the Québec nation

The affirmation of Québec’s nationhood appears as the main guiding principle in Québec’s political and constitutional history. In the rest of Canada, it is frequently thought that the country is necessarily formed by a single nation and that this is an essential condition for maintaining Canadian unity. This univocal vision of Canada triumphed at the patriation of the Constitution in 1982, increasing the distance between Quebecers and the Canada to which they were and are still attached.

Work is needed to re-establish what Quebecers have called for since 1867: mutual recognition for the nations that make up Canada. This is the vision that led to the foundation of the country and that for many years helped to strengthen, rather than weaken, its unity. It is possible and even advisable for Canada to provide suitable recognition for the Québec nation and the Aboriginal nations without calling into question its unity or its ability to develop.

Respect for Québec’s areas of jurisdiction

As a nation, Québec will always be concerned about the ongoing survival of its language and culture. A viable state, with its own institutions, strengthens the ability of the Québec nation to achieve its full potential, and this is why Québec has always claimed the autonomy needed to maintain its state. Its autonomy is founded on the legislative powers granted to it in the Constitution and on the financial means it needs to exercise those powers.

Autonomy

The reality of the Québec nation entails specific responsibilities for the Québec state in areas connected to identity and the areas of jurisdiction assigned by the Constitution. The importance Québec places on the ability to exercise its responsibilities without interference explains why it sometimes demands more freedom to act than its federative partners. This freedom is inherent in the existence of the Québec nation within the Canadian constitutional framework. In no case is Québec demanding powers or extra financial resources that are not available to the other provinces—it is simply ensuring the ongoing viability of its national identity.

Flexibility and asymmetry

Recognition of the Québec nation should help promote the idea of a flexible, asymmetric form of federalism in Canada. By taking into account the reality of a minority nation, asymmetry offers a way to establish balance and fairness, rather than an unfair privilege. It is also essential for Québec, as often as necessary, to explain and reiterate that recognition for the Québec nation gives it the tools it needs to preserve its specific characteristics. Asymmetric federalism makes it possible to pursue shared objectives while respecting Québec’s priorities and methods. It is not a tool used to dissociate Québec from the other provinces, but a flexible approach that facilitates Québec’s involvement in shared projects.

Cooperation and administrative agreements

In recent years, Canadian relations have been influenced by the emergence of intergovernmental practices in which federal and provincial powers are increasingly interwoven. In this area, a growing number of intergovernmental agreements allow the two orders of government to coordinate their actions and cooperate effectively on issues affecting their respective interests.

Today, it is necessary to reinvent the methods used to work towards joint solutions, for example in connection with environmental protection or land management.

Shared institutions

The reform of federal institutions must be discussed. Consideration for Québec’s reality as a nation and for the point of view of all the federative partners must be a key objective.

To guarantee the independence and neutrality of the Supreme Court of Canada as part of the Canadian federal framework, the process for appointing judges should provide for the formal participation of the provinces. In addition, it is vitally important for the appointment process to specifically ensure protection for the specificity of Québec’s civil-law tradition and to grant Québec with a specific role in this regard.

Various scenarios have been proposed for the Senate, ranging from status quo to abolition. Québec has always believed that considerationfor the interests of the provinces and regions should be at the heart of federal governance. The Senate was expected to play this role, but has been unable to do so. Québec is in favour of a forum that reflects the collective diversity of Canada, the national diversity of Québec, the First Nations and the Inuit, and the community diversity of the Acadians and the Canadian Francophonie.

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