To Whom Do Members of the National Assembly of Quebec Owe Allegiance?
A significant discussion has broken out in Quebec over to whom members of the National Assembly of Quebec owe allegiance as a result of the refusal of the leader of the Parti Quebecois (PQ) to swear allegiance to both the people and a foreign monarch at the same time, as part of his swearing in as an elected member of Quebec’s National Assembly. At a press briefing on October 11, Parti Québécois leader and Camille-Laurin MNA, Paul St-Pierre Plamondon, announced that he had sent a letter to the Secretary General of the Quebec National Assembly informing him of his intention to swear an oath of office to the people of Quebec but not to the King of England. The swearing-in of PQ members will take place on October 21.
The PQ leader gave several reasons for his refusal to take the oath to the King. He said, among other things, that one cannot serve two masters and that “the interest of the Quebec people is not that of the crown of a foreign country.” He refers to the British colonial domination that he says is responsible for the hanging of the Patriots, the deportation of the Acadians and the Indian Act, which is still in force. He believes that it would be a conflict of interest for him to swear an oath to the British monarchy.
The leader of the PQ also said that in law, the only law that requires an oath to the king or queen is the Constitution Act, 1867. Indeed, the Act respecting the National Assembly provides only for the oath to the people of Quebec. But on its website, the National Assembly says that the MNA must take both oaths. Plamondon is asking the National Assembly not to take action against him, out of respect for the fact that he was elected by the people, that he will take an oath to the people of Quebec, and out of respect for freedom of conscience. He says he is prepared to face charges from Ottawa, the Governor General or the Lieutenant Governor if charges are laid.
The other two PQ MNAs, Pascal Bérubé in Matane-Matapédia, and Joël Arseneau in Îles-de-la-Madeleine, will also refuse to take the oath of office to the King.
According to some constitutional experts, a modified oath to the King may be one alternative for example, instead of saying “Charles III,” the oath could say “the Head of State.”
The decision on the oath to the King will rest with the Secretary General of the National Assembly. This is Siegfried Peters, who was elected to this position by the National Assembly on October 22, 2019. He is a lawyer by training and has worked at the National Assembly since 2002. His background leaves no doubt that he is an expert in constitutional matters and interpretation of procedures under the constitution.
The Quebec National Assembly website states this about Mr. Peters:
“He first served as a parliamentary procedure advisor and subsequently had the opportunity to work in various assignments under the Secretary General, including in the leadership of legal affairs. He was the Parliamentary Affairs Coordinator from 2011 to June 2017. Since June 2017, he served as the Director of Legal and Legislative Affairs and Parliamentary Procedure.
“Passionate about training and the transmission of knowledge, he has notably participated in the creation of university-level courses on parliamentary law and procedure and comparative parliamentarianism. He also participated in the writing of the second and third editions of the specialized work explaining the functioning of the National Assembly entitled La procédure parlementaire du Québec (Quebec’s Parliamentary Procedure).
“As Secretary General, he will henceforth act as the first advisor to the President of the Assembly on parliamentary procedure, i.e. all the rules governing the conduct of parliamentary business.”
(Quotations translated from the original French)