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Parti Quebecois Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon speaks at a news conference on Oct. 17, 2022 at the legislature in Quebec City. St-Pierre Plamondon told reporters he didn’t want to swear an oath to King Charles III.Karoline Boucher/The Canadian Press

Coalition Avenir Québec’s Simon Jolin-Barrette, a member of the province’s National Assembly, appeared to speak for most of his colleagues this week when he described the act of pledging allegiance to the monarch as one of the most unfun aspects of his job.

“We take no more pleasure than anyone else in swearing an oath to Charles III, but it’s currently part of the Constitution,” he said, in explaining why Parti Québécois Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon’s request for an exemption from the practice would not fly.

Mr. Plamondon, who won his Montreal riding in the Oct. 3 provincial election mainly thanks to a rival candidate being caught on camera removing PQ leaflets from mailboxes, made a splash by announcing he would swear allegiance only to the people of Quebec, and not the King, before taking his seat in the legislature.

“In what universe are we going to require an elected official of Quebec, which is a secular state, to swear allegiance to the king of a foreign state, who, moreover, is the pope of a church that does not match in any way my beliefs and convictions?” he asked, referring to Charles’s dual role as King and the head of the Church of England.

Well, the universe deplored by Mr. Plamondon has existed since 1867 and is one that every PQ leader before him has, eventually, been forced to acknowledge. Section 128 of the Constitution stipulates that all MPs, senators and provincial legislators must swear “to be faithful and bear true allegiance” to the monarch. Period.

Mr. Plamondon, who holds a law degree, surely understands that, in Canada, the Crown represents much more than the person who wears it. The monarch embodies the state, and by extension, the rule of law. In swearing allegiance to the King, then, elected officials are undertaking to uphold the law. They are not vowing undying fealty to Charles as a person, no more than to his mother before him.

Now, if you are devoted to upending the current constitutional order, as Mr. Plamondon and his separatist party are, then it is understandable that you would find the oath objectionable. Mr. Plamondon may have done all Canadians a backhanded favour by initiating a public discussion about Canada’s constitutional future in the post-Elizabethan era. The country needs to have that talk.

As it stands, there is no way for Mr. Plamondon to take his seat in the National Assembly without parking his antimonarchical predilections for the time it takes to utter the King’s name. Despite a new poll showing that most Quebeckers think Mr. Plamondon should not have to take the oath, neither he nor the two other PQ candidates elected on Oct. 3 can sit in the legislature without expressing their loyalty to Charles. Nor can the 11 Québec Solidaire élus who have joined his crusade.

Mr. Plamondon and his fellow conscientious objectors have left Premier François Legault with a public relations headache as he prepares to convene the National Assembly on Nov. 29. The CAQ does not want to give the PQ any more attention than it has already garnered – and it has garnered quite a lot of it in Quebec in recent days – by making a martyr of Mr. Plamondon.

The CAQ has courted nationalists with an autonomist agenda that promises Quebeckers most of the benefits of sovereignty without entailing its costs. But the party’s 90 MNAs obediently took their oaths to the King on Tuesday, even if a few of them grimaced in doing so.

On Tuesday, Mr. Jolin-Barrette floated the possibility of passing a new law to dispense with the oath to the monarch, but he insisted such legislation would not take precedence over other bills the CAQ promised during the campaign. That would leave Mr. Plamondon and his colleagues with the choice of waiting for several months until the law changes before taking their seats, or giving in before Nov. 29.

University of Ottawa professor Philippe Lagassé, an expert on the parliamentary system, said Quebec might invoke Section 45 of the Constitution, which says “the legislature of each province may exclusively make laws amending the constitution of the province,” to change the oath as it pertains to the National Assembly. Mr. Legault’s government used this method this year when it adopted Bill 96, which amended the 1867 Constitution to affirm French as the “only official language of Quebec” and “common language of the Quebec nation.”

Still, the incongruity of having parliamentarians elsewhere in Canada continuing to swear allegiance to the King, while those in Quebec would not, would further erode the constitutional fabric of the country. It would be better to tackle this question together than apart, but that does not mean we will.