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Antonia Maioni

Antonia Maioni

Antonia Maioni

Canada-Quebec relations: First came the Laval school Add to ...

Antonia Maioni is a professor of political science at McGill University.

Long before the Calgary school emerged in political science, there was a social science tradition at Laval University that shaped the scholars, students and practitioners who would build modern-day Quebec. Last week, one of its best-known members, Vincent Lemieux, passed away, marking another end to an era of Canada-Quebec relations.

If the Calgary school is known for its emphasis on firewalls and its libertarian leanings, the Laval school instead embraced the notion of harnessing the power of the state to improve societal well-being. Inspired by the likes of Georges-Henri Lévesque and Fernand Dumont, Laval social scientists sought to instill a collective sense of purpose for Quebeckers that collided with the relative isolationism and conservatism of the past. These were revolutionary concepts in the postwar era, and indeed they were instrumental in inspiring the Quiet Revolution that followed. It was a place that inspired more than a generation of students, including a young Montrealer like myself, to break through stereotypical notions of Quebec and Canadian politics.

Vincent Lemieux was both a product of the Laval school and one of its most prolific contributors. Like his fellow travellers, he was trained in the rigorous methodology of social science research, and then went abroad for graduate study. On his return, he focused on the foundations of political behaviour in Quebec, including interest groups, political parties and public policy. His research displayed a rare combination of bold theoretical innovations and detailed empirical knowledge of real-life politics.

His work on political patronage is of relevance to the back story of the Charbonneau commission today. His analysis of the Quebec Liberal Party provided the basis for understanding the resilience of the brand, while his notion of “generational parties” still stands as a challenge to those who strive to make the Parti Québécois outlive its founders. Moreover, his seminal account of the interest-group politics surrounding Bill 60, the law that broke the Catholic bishops’ power over Quebec schools, provides a window into the soul of subsequent struggles over education, language and – yes – even integration and reasonable accommodation.

But Vincent Lemieux’s contribution was also to bring the Laval school to bear on the place of Quebec in Canada. Unlike his better-known colleague, Léon Dion (famous for the “knife to the throat” analogy of Canadian federalism), Mr. Lemieux was more nuanced in his appreciation of the need for Quebec to be a full and present partner in Canada. Here, his partnership with colleagues across the country, in particular John Meisel at Queen’s University, provided the foundations of an engaged political science discipline that spanned linguistic and cultural divides. Likewise, Mr. Lemieux’s ideal of federalism recognized the specificity of Quebec as a positive contribution to the overall health of the Canadian federation. In short, his was more of a practical Meech Lake vision of Canada than the kind of superimposed model of the Trudeau era.

In that respect, Mr. Lemieux may have been part of the eroding “Laurentian” sentiment of a Canada of two nations. And yet, not much else has emerged to rally the kind of engaged federalism that could bring Quebec back to a more proactive role within the federal community. Few scholars of Canadian politics still have the deep understanding of the roots of Quebec’s political history that Mr. Lemieux and his colleagues brought to bear. Nor, in fact, do many political leaders – either in Quebec or elsewhere in Canada – engage in the kind of collective purpose that the Laval school inspired in its students.

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