At the time this article was
written Jean-Pierre Saintonge was the Member for La Piniere in the Quebec National
Assembly and Speaker of the National Assembly since 1989.
Quebec's National Assembly accords
great importance to interparliamentary relations, whether in the form of
welcoming representatives of other legislatures within its precincts or of
sending delegations to gatherings organized by other parliaments or
parliamentary associations. It is interesting to note that in 1990 alone,
Members of the National Assembly (MNAs) took part in over seventy
interparliamentary activities. Most of these were under the aegis of one or
other of the five main organizations with which the National Assembly maintains
close ties: the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, the Assemblée
internationale des parlementaires de langue française, the Commission de
coopération interparlementaire franco-québécoise, the Comité mixte Assemblée
nationale du Québec/Conseil de la communauté française de Belgique and the
Council of State Governments.
The Assembly's relationship with
American parliamentarians is a very special one, and over the past year it has
developed quite strikingly.
Founded in 1933, the Council of
State Governments (CSG) is an association of parliamentarians that brings
together State Senators and State Representatives from all fifty American
states. The CSG was created to strengthen the influence of the state
legislatures and their role in the federal system. Its mission is to give the
an opportunity to study certain social problems at their own level;
a tool for promoting regional co-operation;
a means of facilitating relations between the states and the federal
As a general rule, around a
thousand people attend the CSG's annual conferences. The topics discussed
there, and the proposals that emerge, aroused the interest of the National Assembly,
which since 1977 has deemed it opportune to send a number of MNAs to represent
it at the conferences.
To maximize its effectiveness, the
CSG is subdivided into four regions or families: Eastern, Mid-Western, Southern
and Western. The Eastern Regional Council (ERC) is thus a forum for
parliamentarians from the ten northeastern states (Connecticut, Delaware,
Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode
Island and Vermont) and the US Virgin Islands. A short time ago the Quebec
National Assembly became a member of the ERC.
MNAs attended the ERC's annual
meetings for a number of years, as observers or guests. In March of 1990, after
discussions with the CSG/ERC, the National Assembly officially joined the ERC
as an "associate international member". For the time being the
National Assembly is the only Canadian legislature to be given this status.
Under the provisions of its
agreement with the CSG/ERC, the National Assembly has a non-voting seat on the
CSG/ERC's executive committee. The seat is held by an MNA designated by the
Speaker of the Assembly. In addition, two delegates representing the Assembly
may participate in the activities of the ERC's three task forces (discussed
below) and five committees (environment, energy, health and social services,
taxation, trade). These delegates may make presentations, propose resolutions
and table documents. Ultimately the task forces may be able to hold some of
their meetings in Quebec.
When it met in March 1990, the
ERC's executive committee chose the areas to be studied over the next two years
by the three task forces, in this case trade, the greenhouse effect and AIDS.
Studies on these areas are regarded as priorities, and must cover precise
objectives set by the executive committee.
The first task force, on foreign
trade, was entrusted with the job of arriving at a consensus among the
northeastern states on a regional export promotion strategy. Among other
things, the task force must:
prepare an inventory of current export promotion activities;
sketch a comparative portrait of the northeastern region with respect to
with the help of a consultant or a university faculty, produce a
preliminary report identifying possible sectors for co-operation among the
region's states. This report should eventually be the subject of public
hearings and/or be submitted to legislative committees in each state, so that
the recommendations can be discussed;
produce a final report that will establish an export promotion
co-operation strategy for the whole region.
The second task force was mandated
to study the greenhouse effect, an environmental phenomenon of great concern to
legislators in the northeastern United States. In particular the task force
diagnose the causes of the greenhouse effect by assembling the most
recent data on the subject, and evaluate the extent to which the northeastern
states are contributing to the phenomenon;
identify strategies (either already in existence or that could be
developed for each of the states) aimed at reducing the emissions,
(particularly of carbon dioxide), that are one cause of the greenhouse effect;
prepare a document describing a common position on strategies suitable
for adoption at the regional level, and hold public hearings on the document's
get each of the legislatures to adopt a legislative program aimed at
counteracting the greenhouse effect.
The third task force was given
responsibility for debating the problem of AIDS. An approach similar to that assigned
the other task forces was set out for it: assemble all available information on
the subject; propose a regional strategy for fighting AIDS; hold public
hearings; and get each of the legislatures to adopt an appropriate legislative
Let me now turn to another
influential American association in which Quebec has an interest, the National
Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).
The NCSL is an association of
American legislators from all fifty states. Its aim is to procure for them the
technical support needed to formulate policies adapted to local needs. In
addition it provides them with documentation on social issues such as AIDS,
taxation and social assistance, and lobbies in the states' interests with
Congress and the federal public services.
It should also be noted that the
NCSL makes available to its members a data bank on political and legislative
activity in the fifty states, and organizes workshops for elected
representatives or their staff on such themes as relations with the media, legal
research, and drafting and analysis of bills, to name just a few.
Although Quebec is very interested
in the NCSL's activities, the National Assembly's involvement in it has
consisted for some years now of participating in annual meetings, with observer
status only. On this basis five MNAs attended the l0th annual meeting in
Nashville, Tennessee, in August 1990.
Through its program of
interparliamentary relations, Quebec's National Assembly is pursuing the
specific goals of giving our institution the benefit of the experience of other
parliamentary systems, making other parliaments aware of the accomplishments
unique to parliamentary government in Quebec, and enlarging MNAs' horizons by
enabling them to learn about foreign legislative institutions and to deepen,
diversify and expand their knowledge in many areas. Indisputably, participation
by MNAs in the activities of the CSG/ERC and the NCSL is an invaluable means to
achieving these goals.