Interpreting Quebec’s Exile Within the Federation

Selected Political Essays

by Guy Laforest (Author)
©2015 Monographs 206 Pages
Open Access
Series: Diversitas, Volume 20


This book combines the approaches of political theory and of intellectual history to provide a lucid account of Québec’s contemporary situation within the Canadian federation.
Guy Laforest considers that the province of Québec, and its inhabitants, are exiled within Canada. They are not fully integrated, politically and constitutionally, nor are they leaving the federation, for now and for the foreseeable future. They are in between these two predicaments. Laforest provides insights into the current workings of the Canadian federation, and some of its key figures of the past fifty years, such as Pierre Elliott Trudeau, René Lévesque, Stephen Harper and Claude Ryan.
The book also offers thought-provoking studies of thinkers and intellectuals such as James Tully, Michel Seymour and André Burelle. Laforest revisits some key historical documents and events, such as the Durham Report and the 1867 and 1982 constitutional documents. He offers political and constitutional proposals that could contribute to help Québec moving beyond the current predicament of internal exile.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction: Interpreting Québec’s Exile within the Federation: Selected Political Essays, by Guy Laforest with the collaboration of Oscar Mejia Mesa
  • Chapter 1: The Internal Exile of Québecers in the Canada of the Charter
  • I. Pierre Trudeau, the Exile of Québecers, and the Charter
  • II. To End the Exile
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 2: The Contemporary Meaning and Utility of Federalism
  • I. The Meaning and Utility of Federalism
  • II. Federalism’s Challenges and Problems
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 3: Making Sense of Canada as a Federal System: The Relevance of Historical Legacies
  • I. Historical Legacies: Their Nature, Role, Interrelations, and Contemporary Significance
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 4: The Historical and Legal Origins of Asymmetrical Federalism in Canada’s Founding Debates: A Brief Interpretive Note
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 5: What Canadian Federalism Means in Québec
  • I. Interpretive Context
  • II. Contemporary Trends and Scholarship: Critical Reflections
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 6: Lord Durham, French Canada, and Québec: Remembering the Past, Debating the Future
  • I. Coming to Terms with Lord Durham’s Report in French Canada and Québec
  • II. Janet Ajzenstat’s Introduction: Debating Lord Durham’s Influence on Canada and Assessing Him as a Human Being and as a Thinker
  • III. A Critical Hermeneutics for the Present and for the Future
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 7: Some Reflections on the Bouchard-Taylor Commission
  • Chapter 8: More Distress than Enchantment: The Constitutional Negotiations of November 1981
  • I. Causes
  • II. Assessing the Behaviour of Participants
  • III. Consequences
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 9: The Canadian State and the Political Freedom of Québec: The Ideas of James Tully and Michel Seymour
  • I. Canada’s Political-Constitutional Identity and Québec’s Situation
  • II. The Philosophical Approaches of James Tully and Michel Seymour
  • III. From a Straightjacket to a Reworking of Democratic Constitutionalism with Universal Scope
  • IV. Michel Seymour’s Criticism
  • V. Overall Consideration of the Theses in Light of Seymour’s Objections
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 10: Trust and Mistrust between Harper and Québec
  • I. Some Reflections on Trust and its Derivatives
  • II. Harper and Québec
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Series index

← 10 | 11 → Acknowledgements

This book owes a lot to the Groupe de recherche sur les sociétés plurinationales (GRSP), led by my colleague and friend Alain-G. Gagnon at the Université du Québec à Montréal. This research group, founded in 1994, currently includes the following colleagues: Eugénie Brouillet, Dean of Law, and Jocelyn Maclure, from the Faculty of Philosophy, at my host institution Université Laval; Dimitri Karmis, André Lecours, and François Rocher from the Écoles d’études politiques (School of Political Studies) at the Université d’Ottawa; José Woehrling, from the Faculty of Law at the Université de Montréal; Geneviève Nootens, from the Département de sciences humaines (Department of Human Sciences) at the Université du Québec à Chicoutimi; and, James Tully, from the Department of Political Science at the University of Victoria. The GRSP has had various grants over the years from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and from the Fonds de recherche du Québec – Société et culture. These grants have been instrumental for researching and writing many of the chapters found in this book. I am grateful to both granting agencies. I have also benefited from the support of my own institution, through the Aid to Publication Program of the Faculté des sciences sociales at l’Université Laval. I also want to express my thanks for this support.

As this book’s front page suggests, I have benefited immensely from the support of Oscar Mejia Mesa, one of my doctoral students, who read all chapters and made many suggestions in both form and substance. This book would not have seen the light of day without him. I also wish to thank Marc Woons, FWO doctoral fellow with the Institute of Philosophy at the University of Leuven, for an insightful linguistic revision and for his many substantive suggestions.

I wish to warmly thank Alain-G. Gagnon for welcoming my work into this collection. His generosity at key moments has been decisive for me.

As always, thanks to my wife Andrée Lapointe and to my three children Isabelle, Vincent, and Raphaël, who make me a happy person.

Guy Laforest← 11 | 12 →

← 12 | 13 → INTRODUCTION

Interpreting Québec’s Exile Within the Federation

Selected Political Essays

I often repeat, half-seriously, that I am a historian of ideas and a teacher of political philosophy, hidden in a political science department. At all Québec universities, as in the rest of North America, much of the business of political science has to do with positivistic approaches, quantitative methods, and rational choice theories for explaining social behaviour. Within the discipline, I belong to the minority methodological and epistemological position. To make sense of politics, I believe one has to rely on an interdisciplinary approach. The insights of philosophy, history, literature, sociology, and law can all enrich the search for coherent and meaningful interpretations of political events, phenomena, and doctrines. Such a combination forms the spirit or, as the Germans say, Geist of a humanistic approach to the study of politics. This book is one example of doing political science in such a way, applied to the task of interpreting the situation of Québec and of Québecers within the Canadian federation.

The book belongs squarely to the discipline of political science with chapters studying the theory and practice of Canadian federalism, as well as analysing various aspects of nationalism in Québec. It borrows heavily from the domain of constitutional law in chapters dealing with Canada’s fundamental laws of 1867 and 1982. Intellectual history has always fascinated me, and I hope that readers who share my interest will appreciate the chapters that deal with the figures such as Lord Durham, Gérard Bouchard, Charles Taylor, James Tully, and Michel Seymour. For those who prefer sociology and philosophy, the book contains chapters on political and social integration, trust and mistrust, political freedom, and complex equality. Internal exile, distress, and enchantment are also of course literary notions, and such ideas play a central role in my reflections.

Much of Western civilization would continue to exist if Québec and Canada were obliterated from the surface of the earth. Our political existence thus takes place at the margins of History and at the periphery of dominant nation-states such as the United States, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. I nevertheless believe that our political history, with its drama and its problems, can inform political science as a discipline and the international community’s learned public sphere. For thirty years, I ← 13 | 14 → have lectured about this history and about these lessons at most universities in Québec and across Canada. Even in our current circumstances of growing indifference between our societies and scholarly communities, I believe that the conversation must be sustained and that efforts must be made to bridge gaps in our reciprocal understandings. The essays brought together in this book represent another personal effort towards attaining this goal.

The first chapter explains its title and goes to the heart of the situation facing Québecers and their place within the Canadian federation. In 1954, Maurice Lamontagne, the late Canadian senator and Université Laval economist, argued that Québec’s situation within Canada is hybrid and ambiguous (Lamontagne 1954). Sixty years later, his reflections still make sense. Geography and the fundamentals of the Canadian constitutional framework are here to stay. Nevertheless, Québec remains awkwardly integrated into the country as a whole. Québec as a political community, and Québecers as citizens and political actors, thus seem to me to be in a situation of internal exile. After explaining at greater length what this notion entails, I attempt to identify the precise changes that could be made to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to remedy this situation. The first time I evoked this idea, a few years ago at a Trudeau Foundation event in Winnipeg, some civil servants from the federal Department of Justice told me that it was the first time, in a couple of decades, that they had heard such specific suggestions. I believe that Québec’s self-representation as an intercultural nation should be affirmed in the Charter’s core. It should also be used as an interpretive principle linked to the understanding of the concept of reasonable limits to rights and liberties in the first section of the Charter, in its linguistic regime (sections 16 to 23), and, finally, in its disposition related to promoting the multicultural heritage of Canadians.

My ideas concerning the contemporary challenges and utility of federalism are straightforwardly presented in the second chapter. I revised these pages in the weeks following the death of Richard Simeon, one of Canada’s preeminent scholars of federalism, who passed away on October 11, 2013. He will be sorely missed. In both of Canada’s official languages, with rigour, subtlety, and respect for dissent, Simeon spent forty years putting his brilliant mind to the task of researching the theory, practice, and machinery of federalism in Canada and the world. He promoted the virtues of dialogue and reciprocal understanding. He played an instrumental role in developing the language of trade-offs in the relationships between Anglophones and Francophones and between Canada’s and Québec’s national projects. In the coming years – and in particular at a colloquium taking place in mid-October 2014 in Québec ← 14 | 15 → City commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Québec Conference of 1864 that led to the Dominion of Canada three years later, which is being organized by Eugénie Brouillet (the Dean of Law at Laval), Alain-G. Gagnon (UQAM Political Scientist), and myself – we hope to have many opportunities to pay homage to Simeon’s work.1 We often debated the fact that, although I believe that he was right in arguing that provinces profit from high legal, political, jurisdictional, fiscal and bureaucratic capacity, our political system nevertheless remains highly centralized mostly in the organization and management of intergovernmental affairs and in the workings of the judicial branch of government. We last discussed these matters at a conference organized in 2011 by Michael Burgess and Cesar Colino at Howfield Manor, near Canterbury, on the English soil where he was born. The topic of the conference dealt with historical legacies crucial to understanding federal regimes – the topic of the third chapter.


ISBN (Softcover)
Open Access
Publication date
2015 (January)
Political science Quebec province Minority Federalism
Bruxelles, Bern, Berlin, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 206 pp., 8 tables

Biographical notes

Guy Laforest (Author)

Guy Laforest is Full Professor in the department of political science, Université Laval, Québec, Canada. His main areas of teaching and research are political theory, intellectual history in Canada and Québec, theories of federalism and of nationalism. He is vice-president of the International Association for Québec Studies and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.


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