Skip to main content

Quebec makes symbolic amendment to Canada's Constitution


Canada's Constitution has officially been changed — at Quebec's request. There were no discussions, exchanges, conferences, or debates of any kind with Ottawa.

The amendment was announced by Quebec language minister Simon Jolin-Barrette, as part of Quebec’s new language law, Bill 96.

The province announced its intention last year to use a little-known provision, article 45, of the Canadian Constitution. It allows a province to add articles pertaining strictly to provincial powers, that do not affect other provinces or the authority of the federal government.

The points added to the founding document are articles 90 and 91, which state that Quebec constitutes a nation and that French is the only official language of the province.

It's a mostly symbolic addition, which Jolin-Barrette said will confirm the province’s capacity to legislate on its own.

"It's part, right now, of the Canadian Constitution and we can be proud that the Quebec nation is in the Constitution right now, and that the French language is the official language of Quebec," the minister told reporters at the National Assembly.

"It's now in the Constitution, and that means there is an inscription of collective rights of the Quebec nation inside the Constitution."

It's not the first time it has been done. Other provinces such as Alberta, Manitoba and New Brunswick have previously altered the Constitution to address their own specific needs when dealing with issues of provincial jurisdictions.

Constitutional experts warn, however, that this method of amending the Constitution is mostly symbolic, and that the Canadian Constitution is the last word, and cannot be overridden.

"This provision is of limited scope," said Benoit Pelletier, a constitutional law professor at the University of Ottawa and a former minister of intergovernmental affairs.

"There is nothing that Quebec could do, for example, under section 45 that would affect the interests of other provinces or of the federal order of government or that would affect the provincial-federal relationships in general."

Jolin-Barrette said he would proudly mail his new Constitution to Ottawa, but he may face an uphill battle on other fronts as federal justice minister, David Lametti, indicated he’s not excluding challenging Bill 96 in the courts. Top Stories

Stay Connected