Just over a year ago the Quebec National Assembly agreed to Bill 190, “An Act to recognize the Members’ oath to the people of Québec as the sole oath required for Members to take office.”
In Quebec’s case this effectively does away with the oath to the British monarch for provincial legislators still prescribed in what we now call the Constitution Act, 1867. And some experts argue Quebec’s Bill 190 is unconstitutional.
Errol Mendes at the University of Ottawa believes the Quebec National Assembly does not have the power to do away with the traditional oath to the monarch by itself (even with the assent of the federal government).
But, he has observed, “stunningly it looks as if they may get away with it.”
In some similar spirit, this past December 7, 2023 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “announced the appointment of Manon Jeannotte as the new Lieutenant Governor of Quebec.”
The very next day the Quebec National Assembly unanimously approved a motion to end the office of Quebec’s provincial lieutenant governor — still theoretically a representative of the monarch across the sea.
The office was characterized as “a symbol of colonialism,” and the motion called for “its replacement by a democratic institution.”
Set beside recent opinion poll buoyancy for both the Bloc and Parti Québécois (if not exactly “Quebec sovereignty”), all this underlines a deep if for some still uncomfortable truth. No Canada that includes a francophone-majority Quebec in any serious way can continue to pay colonial homage to the new King who lives in the United Kingdom.
(And this even seems ultimately workable coast to coast to coast, when recent opinion polls also suggest close to two-thirds of Canadians at large already do not believe Charles III’s monarchy has a long-term future in Canada.)
Similarly, as one step on a longer journey, democratizing the current office of lieutenant governor in Quebec is far from impossible.
It could equally be done without at all disrupting the current machinery of Canadian government. For real-world examples here see Canada’s fellow former British dominions of Ireland and India, and such other more generic parliamentary democracies as Iceland and Germany.
It is at least arguable as well that some reasonable interpretation of sections 41 and 43 of the Constitution Act, 1982 could sanction a related constitutional amendment.
The major practical political problem with any serious democratization of the office of lieutenant governor and/or governor general is that it will cancel the Prime Minister of Canada’s current power to effectively appoint the holders of these offices.
Very briefly, one of history’s many cunning passages has rather irrationally given the head of government in our present political system the power to appoint the (de facto) head of state.
As Allan Levine’s 2011 biography clarifies, one of Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King’s objectives in the King-Byng Affair of 1926, and subsequent Statue of Westminster in 1931, was to transfer the practical power to appoint Canadian governor generals from the British to the Canadian prime minister.
A side effect was to seriously weaken the governor general’s reserve power as a non-partisan constitutional referee — in decisions for example to prorogue parliaments and/or call elections. This has enhanced the power of the Canadian prime minister. And what holder of the office today is going to give this power up?
Yet in 2024 or (most likely?) 2025 Justin Trudeau will be trying to become the first Canadian prime minister to win four consecutive federal elections in more than 115 years!
He may even want to make clear that a fifth consecutive contest would be impossible. And this kind of prime minister might be willing to leave office with more democratic governor generals and lieutenant governors for the Canadian long-term future as his highest high-policy legacy.
Probably not, of course, on several grounds. (Just one of the surprises about Justin Trudeau is that he does seem to be at least a pragmatic monarchist of sorts.)
Yet again, some test case on democratizing the lieutenant governor of Quebec could still have more limited surprise attractions for Prime Minister Trudeau in 2024 and perhaps 2025 — in a new age when pollsters are reporting “Conservatives making inroads in Quebec.”