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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 Laforest revisits some key historical documents and events, such as the Durham Report and the 1867 and 1982 constitutional documents.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 8: More Distress than Enchantment: The Constitutional Negotiations of November 1981


← 122 | 123 → CHAPTER 8

More Distress than Enchantment

The Constitutional Negotiations of November 1981

The title of this chapter is borrowed from the first volume of the autobiography of Canada’s greatest French-Canadian writer linked to the land and the culture of the West. In La détresse et l’enchantement, Gabrielle Roy (1909-1983) delivers a powerfully moving narrative of her childhood in Saint-Boniface and the Winnipeg area in the early 20th century (Roy 1984). Paraphrasing her incomparable prose, I shall argue in this chapter that, seen from Québec and of course without claiming unanimity, the constitutional negotiations of November 1981 and their legal sequel, the Constitution Act, 1982, represent much more distress than enchantment. In the political reality of those years, and in much historical lore ever since, the Province of Québec and its government led by René Lévesque were left in isolation at the end of the day. Québec’s National Assembly, the province’s legislative branch, withheld its consent and has remained steadfast in its refusal ever since. In Québec and elsewhere in Canada, this story has been told and retold, forming a large chunk of scholarship in many disciplines of the social sciences and humanities.

In this chapter, I wish to provide insightful answers to the three following questions:

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