The Québec National Assembly

Article 4 / 9 , Vol 35 No 2 (Summer)

The Québec National Assembly

The legislature of Québec is one of the oldest in Canada. Although it exhibits the main characteristics of a British-style legislature, its history is marked by the cleavage between anglophones and francophones and the affirmation of the Québécois identity. This unique background sets the Québec National Assembly apart from the other provincial legislatures and is reflected in its institutional framework, party dynamics and members. This paper is an overview of the principal features of the Québec National Assembly including its history, procedures and membership.

The history of the Québec legislature1 begins with the Constitutional Act of 1791, which divided the British colony into two provinces and gave each an elected legislature. The legislatures of Upper and Lower Canada were structured like Westminster and saw their share of conflict and experimentation. The system in Lower Canada was composed of the elected Legislative Assembly, the Legislative Council and a governor responsible for the executive function. The latter was assisted by the Executive Council, whose members were chosen by London. The system was only superficially democratic. In fact, the Legislative Assembly’s powers were extremely limited. The cleavage between anglophones and francophones was at the forefront of political conflicts. Francophones were determined to see their interests, institutions and language respected as illustrated by a fierce debate on the status of the French language at the start of the first legislative session. The anglophones controlled the legislature and had a firm grip on the budget, which fed the francophones’ anger. In 1838, the Patriotes revolt forced a suspension of the Constitution. Political institutions were temporarily replaced by a special unelected council, during which time Lord Durham produced his famous report.