Quebec abolishes obligation for National Assembly members to swear an oath to the monarchy
Quebec has abolished the obligation for members of its National Assembly to swear an oath of allegiance to the monarchy before they can take up their seats.
Opposition parties and the government last night united to pass a bill exempting Quebec from the requirement in the Canadian constitution to take an oath to Canada’s head of state and instead making respect for “the National Assembly as the sole oath required.”
The vote ends a two-month stand-off between parliamentary authorities and members of the Parti Québécois who refused to take the oath, although the change could still be challenged in court.
The centre-left and pro-independence Parti Québécois, who were the dominant political force in the country’s parliament as recently as 2014, won just three seats in October’s elections.
In an effort to put themselves back at the centre of political debate and win back nationalist voters from the governing Coalition Avenir Québec, Parti Québécois leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon announced shortly after the election his intention to “take an oath only to the people of Quebec.”
He continued his campaign last week by trying to enter the chamber, known as the Salon Bleu, where he was first turned away by a police officer and then the sergeant at arms, who explained she had received “a clear order” that he was not to be allowed to enter without taking the oath.
It was a stunt for the scrum of TV cameras which flanked him but one which helped to force the government to bring forward the bill abolishing the requirement to take the oath five days later.
— Marc-André Gagnon (@MAGagnonJDQ) December 1, 2022
“The oath of allegiance is outdated and no longer reflects our values,” said Jean-François Roberge, Quebec’s minister for the French language, Canadian relations and the democratic intuitions, on publishing the bill on Tuesday.
“In recommending this change, the government of Quebec is taking action in keeping with the democratic values of our institutions.”
The move won the support of the unionist Liberal party as well as that of the other opposition party, the left-wing and pro-independence Quebec Solidaire.
“We agree that it’s time to move on,” said Liberal opposition leader Monsef Derraji in the debate ahead of yesterday’s vote, but added he hoped the parliament would now return to “real issues”.
Quebec Solidaire spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois addressed a tongue-in-cheek congratulatory message to the leader of the Parti Québécois, saying: “I hope passionately that England lose in the World Cup tomorrow. Between that and the oath, the sun will finally set on the empire.”
By last night, St-Pierre Plamondon and the two other elected members of his party had taken the new oath and will be able to take their seats when the National Assembly sits again in January.
“It’s a source of pride for us but above an important moment for Quebec,” he wrote on Twitter.
The political consensus over the change reflects an apathy in Quebec for the monarchy, according to professor Daniel Béland of Montreal’s McGill University.
He told Nation.Cymru: “Support for the monarchy has long been low in Quebec, especially among its francophone majority, and current support is very low.
“In the aftermath of the accession of Charles III to the throne, for instance, the polling firm Léger found that only 15% of Quebeckers care about the monarchy.
“This certainly explains why members of Quebec’s National Assembly voted in favour of the new bill, even those belonging to the federalist Liberal Party of Quebec.”
The Monarchist League of Canada, which said the government of Quebec should concentrate on real problems facing its citizens like the cost of living crisis, has said it hoped the change would be subject to a legal challenge.
A possible legal challenge was also hinted at by the Lieutenant Governor of Quebec, who gave assent to the change on Friday but reminded the government “they have a duty to ensure the legality and constitutionality of the bills they submit for assent.”
Professor Béland said legal experts were highly divided on whether Quebec had the power to change the oath of allegiance contained in the federal constitution.
But he added: “It is very unlikely the Trudeau government or federal opposition parties will challenge Quebec’s new bill, in part because they know such a move could cost them a lot of votes in the Belle Province.”
Even if the decision were overturned, the three Parti Québécois members can no longer be prevented from entering the chamber. What’s far more uncertain is whether this game of thrones will have the desired effect in helping their party regain the crown in Quebec politics anytime soon.
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