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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 Laforest revisits some key historical documents and events, such as the Durham Report and the 1867 and 1982 constitutional documents.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 4: The Historical and Legal Origins of Asymmetrical Federalism in Canada’s Founding Debates: A Brief Interpretive Note


← 58 | 59 → CHAPTER 4

The Historical and Legal Origins of Asymmetrical Federalism in Canada’s Founding Debates

A Brief Interpretive Note

Asymmetrical federalism is a horrible expression, typical of the jargon of political science, belonging to the same family as, say, consociational democracy. With good reason, neither expression really sells on the streets. An informed discussion can be made easier by the use of synonyms. Asymmetrical federalism means lack of uniform treatment for the various federated units within the political community. Canada has had various experiences with such absence of uniformity since 1867. Asymmetrical federalism is also a way to convey the idea of distinct or special status for federated units, particularly for Québec. This brief interpretive note is essentially concerned with this last layer of meaning. I shall argue that Canada’s constitutional founders were explicitly conscious that the resolutions adopted at the Québec Conference in 1864 and substantially reproduced in the British North America Act, 1867 (Constitution Act, 1867, in contemporary parlance) granted the newly established Province of Québec a significant form of distinct or special status. They contributed to the creation of what we, as historians and political scientists of the 21st century, call an asymmetrical federation, though they obviously did not use the expression at the time.

Two preliminary remarks precede my main argument. First, Canadian political theorists often portray the country abroad as an asymmetrical multinational federation.1 My arguments here will support their contention, but with...

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