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Readings in Quebec History


Last revised:
23 August 2000

Quebec and the Constitution: Conditions for Constitutional Success, (1763-1867)


Claude Bélanger,
Department of History,
Marianopolis College

Two main factors must be taken into consideration when writing a constitution for Quebec:

  • To deal effectively with the distinctiveness of Ouebec;
  • To create conditions that will generate prosperity.

l. To deal with the distinctiveness of Quebec, two postures are possible:

A) To recognize the different character of Quebec in having a population with

  • A different language (French);
  • Different laws ("laws of Canada" or French civil laws);
  • A different religion (Roman Catholicism);
  • Different social institutions (religious, familial or social eg. the seigneurial system or the cooperative movement);
  • Essentially a different culture from the British and/or the North American environment.

This position recognizes Quebec as a national community that needs to be dealt with differently from other British (or Canadian) entities and have its identity/distinctiveness recognized and preserved in the Constitution. This type of recognition was accorded to Quebec in 1774, partly in 1791, and in 1867; it was clearly evident in the Meech Lake Accord of 1987 and in the Chalottetown Agreement of 1992 = Recognition of diversity

B) The second posture that can be adopted in relation to the distinctiveness of Quebec is to eliminate it; that is to seek to assimilate its population.

Assimilate means to render similar to the others (British or Canadians) and not continue to be separate from others. Assimilation meant for the "Canadiens" to accept:

  • British laws; laws being a reflection of one's culture.
  • British institutions, political, social or economical.
  • British religion.
  • (eventually) British language.

Assimilation was official policy in the Royal Proclamation of 1763, partly so in 1791, was sponsored in the Durham Report in 1839 and was official policy in the Union Act of 1840-41. If successful, and not resisted by the population, assimilation would be a factor of unity as community of culture is usually conducive to community of feelings.

2. Constitution must create conditions (atmosphere, legal, territorial or otherwise) which will help generate prosperity:

a) For the government (British or Canadian): for example a proper tax system, tariffs etc.
b) For the business class (very powerful in the past);
c) For the people as well.

To generate prosperity, you require political stability, and the cooperation between the various people and classes in Canada. Under the type of economy (staples: fur, timber, wheat) we especially had in the XIXth Century, you also required that the St.Lawrence/Great Lakes system be kept under a single political entity. To this day, the economic well-being of most Canadians requires that all of its parts cooperate economically together (even under sovereignty-association). The economic factors are factors of unity. 

© 1998 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College