The legislative Council of Quebec, a bulwark against authoritarianism

Le Conseil législatif du Québec, rempart contre l’autoritarisme

Photo: national Assembly of Québec
Quebec was the last province to dismantle its “Senate” in 1968, 40 years after the Nova Scotia. On this photomontage made in 1928, one can see the 24 legislative counsel québec within the walls of the red Room. It was made using the technique of the photoplan, which allows you to capture a group is dispersed in a vast enclosure while maintaining the homogeneity of the exposure. It was the shape that took the mosaics of the Parliament at the time.

Marco Bélair-Cirino and

Dave Christmas

in Quebec city

December 14, 2018

  • Quebec

For more than a century, the red Room of the national Assembly welcomed a small Senate unloved — the legislative Council — was abolished in an indifference that still exists at the fiftieth anniversary of the end of bicameralism in quebec.

The legislative Council, seen by many as a bulwark against a slide to authoritarian in Quebec, collapsed under the weight of indifference it was 50 years ago.

The end of bicameralism in the case of those who may be currently preparing for a revolution “, argues the advisor unionist Patrice Tardif in the face of the imminent death of the upper Chamber in quebec.

“Revolution here, a coup there, murder, irreligion, fraud in high places, etc., We are not immune to it than anyone of these vortices of opinions that are currently threatening the entire world. However, the power in the hands of a simple majority in the legislative Assembly does not offer guarantees to anyone, ‘ he warns in the red Room of the Parliament building in December 1968. All this for an annual savings estimated at 10 ¢ per taxpayer, grieves-t-it.

For the clergy ultramontain of the end of the Nineteenth century, the Senate of quebec acts as the “sanhedrin,” the Council of Elders, established by Moses. It is a ” room aristocratic “, as noted by political scientist Edmond Orban in a book published for the centenary of the institution, in 1967. “There are only representatives of the upper classes, between which it is easier to build a broad consensus. “

Appointed by the lieutenant-governor, on the recommendation of the prime minister, the 24 members of the upper House of the Parliament must — until 1921 — own land in the “division” that they represent. The layout of the districts is drawn to the advantage of the English-speaking regions, which worries a part of the political class of quebec, 1867, fearing that the erection of a ‘fortress English’ at the heart of the political institutions of French Canada.

Until its abolition in 1968, the upper House of the Parliament of quebec has the same powers as the legislative Assembly, except the one to submit bills of a financial nature. She holds mainly a veto on the legislation passed by the deputies of the lower Chamber.

The members of the Council have recourse to it in 1898 to block the adoption of a draft law liberal re-establishing the ministry of public Instruction, which had been abolished by the conservatives in 1875.

The fight rooms

The first cohorts of the legislative counsel are rather dynamic, especially as the first conservative ministers Charles Boucher de Boucherville (1874-1878 and 1891-1892), and John Jones Ross (1884-1887), are leading the Quebec from the red Room.

The value of the Council’s members seems to decrease with the years. In a year of its abolition, the political scientist Orban notes that one-third of the senators ” are, above all, because they are worn out politically or physically “.

The dismantling of the legislative Council is the heart of the program of the Quebec liberal Party, which took power for the first time in 1878. For him, the upper Chamber, conservative majority, blocking almost a third of the bills passed by the lower House. Not surprisingly, the “bill” on the abolition of the Board is also rejected by the ” senators “.

The legislative Council was composed of old-timers, some of the old legislators, the guys who had been trained since a very long time in the debate. Me, I would not have it abolished.

— Gerald Harvey

The red Room is emptied of its advisers “blue” during the long reign of liberal stretching from 1897 to 1936. The abolition of the upper Chamber appears to be less essential to the liberals, who control up to the end of the 1950s.

The project of the redesign of democratic institutions is taken over by the national Union in the mid-1930s. The coalition of conservatives and former liberals advocates the transformation of the Senate québécois in the ” economic council “, whose members would be chosen from among the representatives of the professions.

Yet, in power, Maurice Duplessis continued to fill the upper Chamber of his creatures, ” said the mla René Chaloult in his memoirs. The treasurer of the national Union, Gerald Martineau, is part of the batch. The business man took his seat senate until 1967 when he resigned following his conviction for fraud in the previous year.


The journalists did not rush to the doors of the legislative Council at the beginning of the quiet Revolution. “I peeked, once or twice,” said the former parliamentary correspondent of The Gazette, Robert McKenzie. “What I remember most, it was the pranks that the journalists were, in the genre : “We just have to close the toilet and they can no longer stand there !” “

It is the prime minister and unionist Jean-Jacques Bertrand, who signed the death warrant of the upper Chamber. The “bill 90” on the abolition of the legislative Council is passed by the legislature at the end of November 1968. It is studied at full steam in the red Lounge from 12 December, under the gaze of unusual representatives of the written press.

“The journalists we pass over the head by making as much noise as possible,” complained councillor Ernest Benedict, as if they wanted us to wake up. Because, for many of them, and we are old sleepers. “

The “bill 90” is adopted. A heavy rain falls on the capital. “It is quite a bad omen for the population, you know, that the legislative Council is off on a Friday 13, note the counsel of Late. “Even nature is crying this morning. I think it is a loss to the province and I’m afraid for people to come and ask us to return the next year “, he adds. It is not the case.

Quebec is the last province to dismantle its Senate, forty years after Nova Scotia.

A loss ?

Quebec has lost the exchange, believes the former liberal mp Gerald Harvey. “The legislative Council was composed of old-timers, some of the old legislators, the guys who had been trained since a very long time in the debate. Me, I would not have it abolished. I would have kept it as security, ” he said in an interview with The Duty.

The maintenance of an upper Chamber would have allowed the selection of the parliamentarians of value, writes the in his nineties. “Take a guy like Claude Castonguay. If he had been appointed member of the legislative council, here in Quebec, it would not have prevented him to continue his career, because it was a bright, it Castonguay. “

If he could reconstitute a Senate of quebec, Mr. Harvey would turn first to Martin Coiteux.

“This is a serious guy, a guy who has done a good job. On the side of the Parti québécois, a guy like [Nicolas] Marceau, it would not have been a bad advisor. “

For Mr. Harvey, a legislative Council would be particularly useful since the election of a government caquiste with only two senior ministers, including the prime minister.

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