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Interpreting Quebec’s Exile Within the Federation

Selected Political Essays


Guy Laforest

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 Laforest revisits some key historical documents and events, such as the Durham Report and the 1867 and 1982 constitutional documents.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.
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Chapter 2: The Contemporary Meaning and Utility of Federalism


← 30 | 31 → CHAPTER 2

The Contemporary Meaning and Utility of Federalism

A hundred years ago, Europe was about to experience the upheavals of World War I. Naturally, in our world today, with galloping globalization, complex governance, technological sophistication, and a kaleidoscope of multiple, interwoven identities, we cannot anticipate all that the 21st century has in store for us. In this chapter, I wish to reflect on the contemporary utility of federalism by pointing out the principal challenges and problems that this form of political organization and governance culture will have to deal with in the foreseeable future. I also draw greater attention to the problems and innovations of the last decade. First, however, I make a few remarks on the spirit and philosophical framework in which I conduct this reflection.

Fernand Dumont, a major Québec intellectual, wrote that history gradually breaks the institutions that it creates, but that this does not eliminate the need to use our power responsibly (Dumont 1987, 231). In this vein, I think that we should follow Isaiah Berlin, according to whom the worst of all evils is doctrinal dogmatism, even if it is morally well intentioned. Berlin reminds us that”we must engage in what are called trade-offs – rules, values, principles must yield to each other in varying degrees in different situations” (Berlin 1990, 18). This is, according to him, the first condition for an acceptable society. Federalism is thus not an end in itself. It has to...

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