During her stump speeches in the Gaspé region as part of her provincial election campaign, Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois questioned Queen Elizabeth II’s place in Quebec’s political structure. Ms. Marois presented the monarchy as an institution that separates the province from English Canada.
In her speeches, she was particularly critical of the office of the Lieutenant-Governor, stating, “It seems to me that it takes away from the institutions that we have. There’s the Lieutenant-Governor [Pierre Duchesne, the Queen’s representative], which is a waste of money. His job is to sign into law legislation that he has had nothing to do with and to accept the request of the Premier to have an election. I think it’s a relic and we have to challenge it.”
For a politician whose campaign includes a promise to reinforce the teaching and research of Quebec history in schools, her remarks display a lack of knowledge of both the Crown’s role in shaping modern Québécois political structure and the role of the Lieutenant-Governor. The place of the monarchy in 21st-century Quebec cannot be effectively debated or critiqued without a comprehensive understanding of its history and political role within the province.
Monarchical government does not separate Quebec from the rest of Canada but is instead a political structure that shaped both English- and French-Canadian history. When explorer Jacques Cartier landed in the Gaspé in 1534, he declared the region surrounding the St. Lawrence River to be under the sovereign authority of King Francis I of France. The first royal viceroy in Canada, Aymar de Chaste, was appointed by King Henry IV of France in 1602 and included Samuel de Champlain in his expedition to North America.
As Nathan Tidridge states in his book Canada’s Constitutional Monarchy, “Today’s governors-general trace the roots of their role as the personal representative of the sovereign in Canada all the way back to Champlain, making it the oldest Canadian public office in existence.”
The origins of Quebec’s distinct society and autonomy within Canada date from unique agreements between French Canada and the British King George III. The Royal Proclamation of 1763 created Quebec, a region where the monarch’s French-Canadian subjects could speak their language and practise their Roman Catholic faith. The Quebec Act of 1774 allowed the province’s Roman Catholics to hold political office, reinstituted French civil law and restored the seigniorial system that governed land use in New France. The current political structure of the province where Ms. Marois aspires to become premier has its origins in the guarantee of French-Canadian culture by the British Crown.
The contemporary role of a lieutenant-governor is far more complex than Ms. Marois implies in her recent campaign speeches. As D. Michael Jackson and Lynda M. Haverstock state in their chapter, “The Crown and the Provinces,” in the book The Evolving Canadian Crown, “the lieutenant-governor is at the constitutional apex of the province, holding royal prerogative powers in the name of the Queen, and is, so to speak, the legal incarnation of provincial autonomy in Canada.” In his role as Lieutenant-Governor of Quebec, Mr. Duchesne holds the vice-regal reserve powers of dissolution, prorogation and dismissal and serves as the patron of local charities.
Ms. Marois’s comments about the Lieutenant-Governor signing into law “legislation that he has nothing to do with” is especially inaccurate in the case of Mr. Duchesne, as he is the author of two works on Quebec parliamentary procedure.
The future of the monarchy in 21st-century Quebec and the rest of Canada is a valid subject for popular debate. Discussion of this issue, however, should be informed by a thorough understanding of the Crown’s role in the history and political structure of both English and French Canada.
Carolyn Harris is a Toronto-based historian and the author of the www.royalhistorian.com blog.
Editor's note: an earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Quebec's Lieutenant-General dispenses l’Ordre National du Québec. This version has been corrected.