At the time this article was
written Guy Beaudet was Director of Parliamentary Relations and Members
Services in the Quebec National Assembly
According to a now
well-established tradition, the Quebec National Assembly attaches great
importance to its parliamentary relations. The reason is that, over the past
several years, foreign parliamentarians and senior government officials on
official visits to Canada have shown a particular interest in Quebec and its
institutions. The French and British traditions in Quebec, which have deeply
marked its institutions and given them characteristics that are original and
unique in North America, will no doubt continue to be of interest in future.
This article outlines the framework for parliamentary relations at the National
The National Assembly's relations
with foreign Parliaments have become more numerous and serious over time, but its
parliamentarians' mission with respect to exchanges still focusses on
essentially the same two points: information and representation.
Parliamentary activities at the
National Assembly are so extensive that, contrary to what is prevalent in most
other Canadian provinces and American states, a separate administrative unit is
charged with ensuring their planning and proper progress.
The National Assembly is not
satisfied with simply maintaining its position within a large forum composed of
its foreign parliamentary partners, but strives to play an active role in this
important and diversified network, so that Members of the National Assembly
(MNAs) will occupy a prime place in it. The reason for this is simple: by
playing an active role, the National Assembly permits MNAs to benefit from
valuable professional exchange and development situations.
Since the majority of MNAs have not
necessarily received, prior to their election, specific training enabling them
to assume all of their new responsibilities they must learn how to perform some
of a parliamentarian's work through experience.
It is, therefore, understandale why
it is important for the Parliamentary Relations Branch to ensure the necessary
continuity from one legislature to another. It must attempt to place MNAs in
situations where their abilities and experience will make them good colleagues
of Quebec's foreign partners, while at the same time encouraging their
An MNA may require formal briefings
for bilateral commissions, symposia, joint committees, seminars, workshops,
conferences, industrial tours or informal briefings for official dinners,
participation in socio-cultural activities focussing on missions and
receptions. Such information must always emphasize increasing an MNA's
knowledge in a variety of fields: the workings of political institutions, the
philosophy and strategies of these institutions, historical events, the work
methods and legislative priorities of parliamentary partners, the population's
culture and customs, and the ambitions and desires that transpire from these
meetings and influence an MNA's decision-making process.
When an MNA participates in theme
meetings, he obtains up-to-date information on the problems he faces as a
Quebec legislator. He can compare his points of view with those of invited
specialists and other parliamentarians who have a different background and
political culture. He thus acquires a better understanding of the issues
examined, which makes him even more capable of exercising a sound control over
policies analyzed in the House and parliamentary commissions.
The collision of ideas, which is
characteristic of the meetings MNAs attend as part of their parliamentary
activities, is inspiring and constructive. When an MNA is repeatedly exposed to
these learning situations over time, he becomes an increasingly dynamic partner
within the parliamentary network.
Parliamentary activities are forums
centered on exchanges. An MNA may find that these activities always offer him
an opportunity to perfect his knowledge and enrich his experience as a
legislator, but they alsogive him an opportunity to promote Quebec.
In fact, during formal discussions
and informal exchanges, an MNA promotes Quebec, its natural resources, its
dynamic economy, its potential for tourism, its population's expertise, its
institutions and its culture.
Interventions made by Quebec MNAs
during parliamentary conferences often contribute to the general lobbying
effort with foreign legislators who are often Quebec's economic and trading
Of course, it is not the
responsibility of MNAs to act as Quebec's official negotiators abroad, but they
can nevertheless play an extremely important role by better informing their
foreign colleagues. This is a fair return on the similar benefits MNAs derive
from meetings, and is a way of allowing them, within the limit of their field
of competence and the National Assembly's objectives, to set the wheels in
motion for formal agreements between Quebec and foreign countries.
In this context, MNAs represent
Quebec's entire population during each parliamentary activity. The relations
they establish constitute not only another brick in the building for
co-operation started by their predecessors, but also a foundation on which
their successors can make contributions.
Experience has shown that, in the
field of parliamentary relations, nothing is possible without continuity.
Holding a large number of isolated meetings with foreign parliamentarians serve
limited usefulness if continuity were not ensured and if exchanges were not
part of a coherent, clearly defined, comprehensive plan.
Based on this, the Parliamentary
Relations Branch has reactivated and developed parliamentary exchanges at a
time when our "parliamentary families" are very close, in order to
ensure the best continuity possible. Moreover, a structure of this type is
intended to permit all MNAs to better understand the role they play in the
National Assembly's comprehensive parliamentary relations plan, and to encourage
them to develop areas of expertise and special interests.
The Major arliamentary
The National Assembly's
parliamentary activities can currently be grouped together in the six major
families listed below:
IAFSP (International Association of French-Speaking Parliamentarians);
CPA (Commonwealth Parliamentary Association) ;
American parliamentary associations;
France: (Association Quebec-France -- Commission for interparliamentary
co-operation between France and Quebec);
Belgium: (Joint committee composed of the Council of the French
community in Belgium and the Quebec National Assembly);
Other parliamentary activities.
The International Association of
French-Speaking Parliamentarians (IAFSP), founded in 1967, consists of 38
sections from 33 countries grouped into European, African and American regions.
Its main objective is to encourage a variety of initiatives to further the
The National Assembly has been a full
member of the IAFSP since 1975 and, in this capacity, actively participates in
the Association's activities, namely as a member of its Executive Committee. In
1986, the National Assembly hosted the 15th General Meeting. The Speaker of the
Quebec National Assembly has been Vice-President of the IAFSP since January
The IAFSP is the only association
that brings together parliamentary Francophonie. In doing this, it plays a
vital role with respect to the defence and development of the French culture.
In order to achieve this objective, the IAFSP has joined forces with the
Francophone Summit which is the executive body of "la Francophonie".
Quebec is home to North American
Francophonie and continues to play a role that is essential for the survival and
development of the French fact in North America. As a result, the Quebec
National Assembly must play a leadership role within the parliamentary
Francophonie in America and is, therefore, an important partner of the IAFSP.
It is from tis viewpoint that Quebec's vice-presidency in the IAFSP takes on
its importance and significance.
The Commonwealth Parliamentary
Association's (CPA) goal is to unite the Commonwealth's parliamentarians,
regardless of their race, faith or culture, while respecting their rights and
freedoms and allowing them to pursue the ideals of parliamentary democracy.
The Quebec National Assembly is a
full member of the CPA which carries on the British parliamentary tradition.
The Assembly actively participates in seminars, symposia, conferences and other
meetings during which parliamentarians can become better acquainted with each
other, exchange ideas and enrich themselves through their own experience.
It should be noted that the CPA is
the only parliamentary association that allows regular annual exchanges to be
held across Canada. This enables the MNA to maintain relations with its
partners from other Canadian provinces. Furthermore, of the seven regions on
five continents that make up the CPA, Canada is the only country that forms a region
on its own.
For several years, Members of the
National Assembly have participated, as observers or invited guests, in some
meetings held by the two largest American parliamentary associations: The
National Conference of State Legislatures and the Council of State Governments.
Seminars organized by these two
associations permit legislators to discuss among themselves and with
specialists the main problems to which they must find solutions and on which
they must legislate.
The National Assembly also delegates
its Members to some meetings held by special committees that are charged with
studying energy and environmental issues in particular, which are a priority of
Quebec and the members of the Eastern Regional Conference of the Council of
In the context of free trade, it is
of prime importance that these relations be maintained, since it is essential
that MNAs become more familiar with the dynamics of American institutions.
relaions took shape in 1979. Two bodies voice the concerns of these
communities: the Commission for France-Quebec interparliamentary co-operation
established in 1979 and friendship groups (created in 1986-1987). The objective
of these relations is to develop interparliamentary co-operation between the
two Assemblies and to strengthen, in general, the friendship ties between
France and Quebec.
Relations between Quebec and France
are privileged. Close co-operation between the two societies occurs on several
levels. Therefore, the National Assembly must fully participate in this
dynamic; the same applies to the vitality of Francophone parliamentary
government and the protection of the two Francophone societies from other
Parliamentarians from France and
Quebec will have much to discuss on economic and trade matters in light of the
implementation of the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and the creation of a
single common market in Europe in 1992. Both Quebec and France will benefit
from the experiences of these events, at a time when their economies are
On the heels of its activities on
the international scene, the National Assembly continues to lengthen its very
impressive list of achievements, by constantly and aggressively establishing
contacts. One of these great achievements is the creation, in October 1979, of
the Joint committee on interparliamentary co-operation between the Conseil de
la communautÚ franšais de Belgique and the National Assembly.
This Committee's objective is to
encourage the exchange of parliamentary work methods and to develop a mutual
knowledge of the communities involved, with the acknowledged goal of
strengthening co-operation between them, as well as their friendship ties. The
Committee held annual meetings until 1985, after which it interrupted its
activities for two and a half years.
In September 1987, the National
Assembly and the CCF relaunched their relations on the occasion of the
Committee's VII Session held in Quebec City. At that time, the Committe adopted
modifications to its statutes, in order to strengthen relations between the two
Assemblies. Furthermore, participants exchanged views on Quebec's and Belgium's
political institutions and discussed the Meech Lake Accord. During the
Committee's VIII Session, which was held in Belgium in May 1988, participants
had the opportunity to discuss family policy. The IX Session will be held in
Quebec City in the Fall of 1989.
Other Parliamentary Activities
The last parliamentary family is a
mixed one, because it groups together non-statutory activities which are
sometimes multilateral and non-recurrent, or sometimes bilateral, but
non-institutionalized. The reception of a delegation of representatives of the
European Economic Community would be an example of a multilateral, non-recurrent
activity, whereas a meeting of Quebec MNAs with Ontario Members of Parliament
would represent a bilateral, non-institutionalized activity. Other examples of
activities to be developed and encouraged are listed below:
the participation of MNAs in official dinners with foreign legislators
organized by the Quebec Ministry of External Affairs;
the participation of MNAs in official business dinners on subjects of
the participation of MNAs in a Canadian Parliamentary Forum on the status
of handicapped persons, the status of women, etc.;
the participation of MNAs in theme conferences.
Experience over the past few years
has shown that the volume of these parliamentary activities and the quality of
the exchanges to which they give rise, deserve a great deal of our interest. In
fact, even if discussions take place within an informal framework, the fact
remains that each discussion, in its own way, offers MNAs excellent training
and representation opportunities. In addition, certain contacts established
during these various meetings encourage ties to be formed which, ver time and
with the common will of all partners, can develop into an institutional and
statutory parliamentary relation.
In order to reach its objectives
and enrich the tradition of parliamentary relations at the National Assembly,
the Public Relations Branch has strived to rationalize the participation of
Quebec MNAs in parliamentary activities.
Even if we are pleased with the
large number of occasions offered to National Assembly parliamentarians over
the past few months to improve themselves, we believe it is essential that the
specific objectives of each accepted activity be better defined. This approach
will facilitate the integration of the efforts of each MNA into a more easily
perceptible and understandable framework.
Record of Parliamentary
When it adopted a decision on
official missions, one of the objectives of the Bureau of the National Assembly
was to begin to compile a record of parliamentary relations, primarily by using
mission reports prepared by MNAs and parliamentary relations consultants
available to them.
These reports constitute important
tools for the Parliamentary Relations Branch with respect to its essential
feed-back process which follows each parliamentary activity. these
Finally-and this the last part of
the feed-back chain-these reports are forwarded to the Speaker and the whips
who can subsequently make good use of them with a view to future meetings.
The amount of experience gained,
and comments made, by MNAs in this context constitute a very precious source of
information over the medium term.
Organization of Activities
around the Major Parliamentary Families
Professional experience, linguistic
skills, interests and particular tastes, or simply circumstances have resulted
in the fact that, in practice, groups of MNAs meet more regularly during the
activities of one major family or another.
On the basis of this observation,
the Parliamentary Relations Branch has decided to organize its activities
around th six major families, which currently group together all possible
interventions on the part of MNAs in the area of parliamentary relations.
Since missions, receptions and ad
hoc meetings invariably take place within each family, each MNA would
successively be called upon to perform his duties within a different framework,
from which he would derive specific training benefits each time.
The Parliamentary Relations Branch
ensures the experience offered by this operating method which also provides
definite quantitative benefits, including:
an acceleration of the numerous administrative steps inherent in each
better preliminary preparation of MNAs;
greater specialization of MNAs;
more frequent and more serious exchanges between Members of the same
a more personalized and modular follow-up conducted by parliamentary
relations consultants who are responsible for a given family;
more thorough training of MNAs by establishing more regular ties between
parliamentary consultants and MNAs;
a guarantee that MNAs will be registered for activities and workshops
having a limited number of participants.
Of course, some of these
qualitative benefits also have significant quantitative implications:
savings on registration fees for certain symposia;
substantial savings on travel expenses;
savings on accommodation expenses.
The Parliamentary Relations Branch
believes that by combining the concept's qualitative and quantitative benefits,
it will be better able to direct parliamentary relations at the National
Assembly and encourage higher quality participation at a lower cost.
In order to maintain and enrich the
tradition parliamentary relations at te National Assembly, we must also share a
vision of our institution Which transcends sessions and legislatures.
Continuity must be guaranteed.
If our parliamentary system
requires that the composition of the House vary from time to time as a result
of elections, the image and the level of parliamentary relations at the
National Assembly must constantly be maintained.
After one year of recovery and
internal reorganization, the Parliamentary Relations Branch now intends to
emphasize the quality of the services it offers to MNAs and personalize them.
By organizing its activities around the six major families and grouping
together a certain number of MNAs in each family, the Parliamentary Relations
Branch intends to strengthen and deepen exchanges with foreign