Quebec set to fill legal void that could paralyze government in event of Queen Elizabeth's death
Queen Elizabeth II reacts as she looks out during a ceremony to mark her official birthday at Windsor Castle in Windsor, England, Saturday June 13, 2020. (Toby Melville/Pool via AP)
MONTREAL -- The Legault government is preparing legislation to fill a legal void that could have serious consequences in the event of the death or abdication of Queen Elizabeth II.
The Minister responsible for Canadian Relations, Sonia LeBel, tabled Bill 86 on Thursday morning, which aims to protect Quebec from any eventuality, including a total paralysis of the state.
The scenario may seem exaggerated, even zany, but government lawyers are taking it very seriously.
They fear that if the Queen, soon to be 95 years old and officially Canada's head of state, were to breathe her last breath before the National Assembly could legislate, Quebec would be paralyzed and forced to call an early general election.
According to experts at the Quebec Secretariat for Canadian Relations who are assisting LeBel, the three foundations of power in Quebec City (the executive, the legislature and the judiciary) could be undermined or even unable to function. Public office holders (MNAs and ministers) would lose their responsibilities. Laws passed after the end of the sovereign's reign could be challenged.
"In practice, parliament would be dissolved and all proceedings before the courts would be interrupted and would have to be reintroduced," the minister confirmed in a statement.
To avoid this catastrophic scenario, LeBel intends to proceed as quickly as possible, in a hurry to get her bill "concerning the devolution of the Crown" (i.e. the death of the sovereign or her abdication) passed as soon as possible.
The bill, which has only four sections, states that "the vesting of the Crown does not terminate the activities of the Parliament of Quebec, the government or the courts, nor does it terminate any office or employment."
The bill also provides that the oath of allegiance to the sovereign, which all MNAs must take, would not lapse.
Quebec is the only Canadian province to have placed itself in this difficult position.
"Like other Canadian provinces, we must ensure that our legislative provisions are clear and that they allow us to counter any inconvenience that would result from the devolution of the Crown. This ensures that the upcoming devolution will have absolutely no effect on the conduct of government business," explained LeBel in a news release.
Quebec has been in this risky and uncomfortable situation for almost 40 years.
In 1982, in conjunction with the patriation of the Canadian Constitution, the René Lévesque's government struck out a section of the law providing that the legislature could not be dissolved in the event of the death of the sovereign. Since then, apparently, no Quebec government has taken stock of the risk involved in that decision.
On Thursday morning, the PQ opposition said the National Assembly should take the opportunity to eliminate any presence of the British monarchy in Quebec, including abolishing the position of Lieutenant Governor of Quebec.
The "absurd" situation in which Quebec finds itself illustrates "how outdated and completely illegitimate our political system is in Quebec," commented Parti Québécois leader Paul Saint-Pierre Plamondon at a news briefing, adding that polls indicate that the population as a whole is in favour of abolishing the monarchy.
The Legault government said it shares this position and has made a commitment to do so, but believes that the time is not right to follow through.
- This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 11, 2021.