Will Members of Quebec's National Assembly Swear Allegiance to the King?

A problem which has emerged is that after the current election is over and members of the National Assembly take their seats, they will all be obliged to swear allegiance to King Charles III. For many it is a dreadful thought they find hard to live with. They feel they are compromising their conscience but have no choice. In the absence of a nation-building project which vests sovereignty in the people, many really do not know what to do about this disagreeable situation.

In 1982, the government of René Lévesque passed an act of the National Assembly which introduced the obligation for all Members of the National Assembly (MNAs) to swear allegiance to the people of Quebec. But MNAs must also swear allegiance to the monarch because the 1867 constitution still requires them to do so.

That solution merely underscores the kind of irrationality that is introduced when problems are not provided with viable modern solutions. Once allegiance is sworn to the King, which means to Canada's constitutional arrangements which do not recognize Quebec's right to self-determination, then the scope of meaningful action on the part of the National Assembly is automatically diminished and even proscribed.

On several occasions in Quebec's history, elected officials have wanted to refuse to take the oath of allegiance to the Queen, but ended up doing so anyway. One well-known case is that of the six Parti Québécois members who refused to take the oath when they were first elected in 1970. They decided to sit in the spectator gallery for several weeks before finally giving in.

In 2018, the ten elected members of Québec Solidaire made a request to the Secretary General of the National Assembly that they be able to take the oath to the Queen in private so as not to make a show of it and their request was granted. They made the oath to the people of Quebec in public and to the Queen in private. The Parti Québécois members, on the other hand, were given the possibility of changing the oath to say, "Until Quebec is independent... I do solemnly declare that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second."

Québec Solidaire then tabled a bill to abolish the oath, but the CAQ government voted against it and the bill did not pass. CAQ House Leader Simon Jolin-Barrette tried to justify his party's opposition by saying that "it is not by a motion that this problem can be solved." He said, "It requires a constitutional amendment and that is complex," adding that the issue of the oath of allegiance "is far from the concerns of Quebeckers."

At the time, several constitutional experts argued that there was no need for a law, that MNAs should simply refuse to swear the oath to the monarch. They argued that the National Assembly is de facto sovereign and that, politically, no one among the ruling circles would have the gumption to challenge this when it is known that the vast majority of Quebeckers have nothing but contempt for this obligation to swear an oath to a monarch, and a foreign one at that.

Another argument might be that MNAs have been elected with a majority vote in their constituencies and the National Assembly does not have the right to interfere with the will of the people. That is, either the elected represent the electorate or they represent the monarch. They cannot do both at the same time. It is irrational, ridiculous. Furthermore, according to the latest Pollara survey, only 18 per cent of Quebeckers think Canada should keep its ties to the monarchy; 64 per cent are against.

In the opinion of the Marxist-Leninist Party of Quebec, there should be a consensus in the National Assembly not to endorse the succession by refusing to take the oath of allegiance to the King. It is a matter of principle because it is in contradiction with the idea that decision-making power is vested in the National Assembly and that the representatives are elected by the people. But even if a consensus cannot be reached, the courage to refuse will reveal who will take up the political fight to defend their right to take their seats based on receiving the most votes in their riding during the election.

If elected officials are denied their right to take their place in the National Assembly, how will the vacuum be resolved? Will the King's representative in Quebec dictate the solution, perhaps saying who should sit in his place? Or perhaps there is already a precedent for such a situation? In any case, it looks like a good constitutional crisis that Quebec will be honoured to provoke.

One thing is certain, should everyone refuse to swear this oath of allegiance, it would become de facto the new tradition. Already Quebec refused to affix its signature on the Constitution Act, 1982 because it does not uphold the rights of the Quebec nation to self-determination up to and including the right of secession if it so desires. Refusing the oath would push this further and be another step on the part of the people of Quebec to resolve the Constitutional crisis in their favour and in favour of the peoples of the entire country.

This article was published in
Volume 52 Number 23 - October 2, 2022

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