Quebec needs its own constitution


Saturday 8 April 2000
A Quebec constitution anyone? Funny how that idea has been part of our political landscape for decades, but no Quebec government has ever brought it to fruition.
Even so, federalist and sovereignist leaders have supported the idea, be it a constitution for a more autonomous Quebec or for an independent one.
By the way, Quebec already has its own informal constitution, which predates the Canadian one by two centuries. What we lack is a formal, modern, written constitution. That's why premier Jean Lesage created a committee on the constitution in 1963, but to no avail. Premier Daniel Johnson Sr. expressed the desire to give Quebec its own constitution, but lacked the time to do it. In May 1998, Jacques Parizeau suggested we should write the constitution of a sovereign Quebec before another referendum is held, but his suggestion fell on deaf ears.
Le Devoir Article
In Monday's Le Devoir, the idea of a written Quebec constitution made another comeback. Four sovereignist intellectuals - Pierre De Bellefeuille, Denis Moniere, Claude G. Charron and Gordon Lefebvre - suggested that the National Assembly convene an elected constituent assembly.
This assembly would be given a two-year mandate. Its tasks would be to define the constitutional powers essential to the political affirmation of Quebec and to adopt the principles governing our future constitution. Our government would then submit this project to the rest of Canada. If negotiations were fruitful, our ensuing new status would be submitted to us by referendum. If negotiations failed, a referendum on sovereignty would then be held.
Their plan would allow Quebec to stop wallowing in its current wait-and-see attitude. Point well taken. The problem is that their suggestion, it seems, is to write up a constitution for a more autonomous Quebec, not a sovereign one. This means that sovereignists would forgo their option, at least for the moment, to try to negotiate more autonomy within Canada. Been there, done that.
Still, one shouldn't throw out the baby with the bath water. Along with Le Devoir, which, for the next few Mondays, will present a series of articles on a new Quebec constitution, these four intellectuals, at least, have had the vision to put this important issue back on the table.
Most of all, they're right to demand greater participation by Quebecers in their own process of self-determination through the preparation of a modern constitution of our own. But why take the provincial-autonomy detour, well intended as it may be, when we can invest our energies in a constitution for a sovereign Quebec?
Clear Outline
Not only would this present us with what's been sorely missing from the sovereignty project: a clear outline, defined democratically, of what this new status would mean to citizens. It would put sovereignty back where it should be when a sovereignist party is in government: at the very heart of public debate.
Preparing a constitution means having this debate in the most democratic, forward-looking way possible, one that would give a greater voice to those who have the most at stake when it comes to Quebec's future: us. It would also give members of the younger generations a forum to express their own vision of what a sovereign Quebec could be, a vision that stands to be different from that of the older generations that have been at the helm of the sovereignty movement for decades now.
But whichever formula is chosen - a constituent assembly, a national-assembly committee, a combination of both or another mechanism - it's important that a new Quebec constitution be succinct and intelligible to all. This is what ex-deputy premier and renowned constitutional expert Jacques-Yvan Morin suggests in his 1994 book Demain, le Quebec.
But most important, this blueprint for a constitution of a sovereign Quebec should not be a simplistic, unimaginative copy of the Canadian one. If we escape that temptation, we could finally review our electoral and political systems, in order to come up with the most democratic ones possible. Would a proportional-representation system be preferable to our current British parliamentary system? Would we opt for a republican system? How would we deal with the growing political power of non-elected judges? Could we find a way to give more decision-making powers to the legislative branch? And so on.
Many more questions need to be addressed about exactly how we intend to govern ourselves in an independent Quebec. If we don't answer these questions, the sovereignist movement will have failed to do its homework.

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