In connection with celebrations for the 400th anniversary of the founding
of Québec City, the National Assembly of Quebec and Laval University have
undertaken to create a Research Chair in Democracy and Parliamentary Institutions.
This article looks at how the new institution will improve knowledge about
our democratic institutions.
Parliamentary assemblies are houses of democracy. No other place possesses
the democratic legitimacy, which derives from election by universal suffrage.
Nevertheless, perhaps because our democratic institutions are now taken
for granted, too few citizens truly know them. This ignorance, which can
be observed in all Western democracies, is an issue of fundamental importance
for all those in public life, for it engenders indifference, mistrust,
sometimes even suspicion towards the representative system.
The majority of modern parliaments face identical challenges and issues.
What consequences does a more global society have for the way democratic
How do we ensure a fairer representation of citizens and of the diversity
How do we reconcile traditional means of political expression with a society
in which the media play an ever more prominent role?
How do we reinforce the role of parliament vis-à-vis the executive?
Although these questions drive public debate, the parliamentary institutions
and the problems associated with them paradoxically remain marginal as
a specific object of research in the university sphere, both in Canada
and in Europe.
The creation of a university research chair must be envisaged first and
foremost from a scientific and academic perspective. Thus the promoters
of the Research Chair in Democracy and Parliamentary Institutions set forth
a certain number of objectives:
The study of legislatures within traditional legal, political science,
and social science disciplines create a need to train the teachers themselves
and to upgrade their knowledge;
Problems relating to the workings of our democratic societies and their
interweaving with other social phenomena warrant a multidisciplinary approach
that cannot be realized within a single faculty;
Questions within our modern societies about the workings of democratic
systems and the appearance of what some call a crisis in representation
provide incentives to develop specific university research;
Globalization and access to a greater wealth of information, in particular
thanks to new technologies, offer an exceptional opportunity to promote
the study of democratic institutions;
Quebec City is an ideal site for a formal partnership between a parliament
and a university.
By adding together the know-how of the partner organizations, both current
and future, and by relying on the expertise of specialists from the Law
and Social Sciences Faculties of Laval University, the Research Chair in
Democracy and Parliamentary Institutions will make it possible to assemble
a critical mass of researchers, professors, students, and practising specialists.
It will occupy a position of academic leadership both in Canada and on
the international scene, a leadership from which each of its partners will
The initial partners have formally agreed upon the definition of four objectives
to guide the missions, activities, and purposes of the Chair:
- Create a pole of excellence at the university level on democracy and parliamentary
- Within this framework make parliamentary institutions in particular a specific
subject of research, teaching, and training in law and in the political
and social sciences;
- Make high-level students aware of all aspects of the parliamentary system
in modern democracies;
- Foster a greater openness on the part of the Québec parliamentary community.
While these objectives were naturally identified in relation to the concerns
of the founding partners, they were also defined in such a way as to be
perfectly compatible with those of future partners.
The Four Axes
Beginning in February 2006 the partners decided to structure the work done
within the Chair along four main axes destined to organize the research,
teaching, and training activities conducted under the auspices of the Chair.
The Parliamentary System and Political Representation axis concerns,
- relations of confidence among the population, their elected representatives,
and representative institutions;
- direct democracy and cyberdemocracy;
- the representation of women, ethnocultural minorities and Native Peoples
in representative institutions;
- globalization and the evolution of the role of national and regional parliaments.
The Comparative Parliamentary Procedure and Legislative Process axis
brings together, among other things:
- the fundamentals of parliamentary law and the evolution of parliamentary
- the evolution of the business of parliament;
- parliamentary reforms;
- the procedure of the National Assembly compared to parliaments in the Westminster
- parliamentary privilege.
The Parliament and the Exercise of Governance axis addresses principally
questions pertaining to:
- the relations among the legislative, executive, and judicial powers;
- parliamentary surveillance over the government administration;
- the principle of responsible government;
- the international activities of parliamentary institutions;
- the exercise of lobbying and the practice of ethics by elected representatives.
Finally, the Parliamentary System and Elections axis focuses, among other
things, on problems related to:
- the evolution of electoral rules and their impact on parliamentary representation;
- the transformations related to new technologies and the role of the media;
- polls and democracy.
As far as its activities are concerned, the Chair is charged with carrying
out and coordinating activities relating to research, training, and the
transfer of knowledge in collaboration with all its partners.
With regard to scientific research, the Chair will be responsible for managing
the research funds within the four research axes and for allocating study
Concretely that means:
- Coordinating fundamental research programs on democracy and parliamentary
- Responding to needs expressed by the associated parliamentary institutions
concerning research development;
- Supporting research through study grants;
- Fostering the addition of expertise from the academic milieu and that developed
by its partners.
Training will also occupy a prominent place in the Chairs activities.
The idea is to enable current programs in law and the social sciences
offered by the University, in particular those in political science as
well as its new training in public administration, to benefit from the
expertise acquired by the researchers associated with the work of the Chair;
to develop a program of continuing training; and to put into place accredited
internships within the partner institutions.
Besides these activities the Chair must, through scientific activities
and publications, ensure a transfer of the knowledge developed in the field.
It will eventually also be possible to contemplate holding international
conferences on democracy and parliamentary institutions.
Organization of the Research Chair
The Chairs governing structure has been designed to accord the necessary
academic freedom, to reflect the current state of their contributions,
and also to take into account the arrival of new partners.
Thus, the Chair is governed by a Steering Committee which appoints its
Holder for a renewable term of five years. This Committee defines, as necessary,
appropriate rules governing expenditures within the framework of the Chairs
operating budget and the rules regarding eligibility for grants, as well
as the procedure for applying for a grant. Furthermore, as is the case
with all chairs, a Fund for the Chair in Democracy and Parliamentary Institutions
has been established. The Chairs Steering Committee ensures the management
of this Fund. The Fund receives the contributions made by the National
Assembly, Laval University, and the other partners who are signatories
to the agreements that created the Chair. It will also receive any gifts
made by future new contributors. Attached to the Faculties of Social Science
and Law, the Fund comprises a capital fund, working capital, and a current-income
The Holder oversees the development of scientific and pedagogical activities,
presides over the Chairs Scientific Committee and the meetings of its
Advisory Committee. It prepares and presents the operating budget to the
Steering Committee each year and administers the budget allocated by the
The Chairs Scientific Committee, composed of the Holder of the Chair,
who presides over it, two professors designated by the Faculty of Social
Sciences, and two professors designated by the Faculty of Law, is in charge
of the content, selection, and coordination of the research and training
The Advisory Committee, composed of the Holder of the Chair and a representative
of each partner, receives the specific research projects submitted by the
partners and forwards them to the Steering Committee, which approves them.
It also provides consultative opinions. It is mainly within this body that
present and future partners will be able to relay their concerns and put
forward research proposals
The Chairs activities are situated in the research space of the Faculty
of Social Sciences in the Charles-De Koninck Pavilion at Laval University.
Students have work spaces assigned to them there, as do the Chairs partners.
The first holder of the Research Chair will be Professor Louis Massicotte,
well known throughout Canada, for his work on parliamentary government
and the electoral process.
The Chair relies on the technical computer services and the research services
of the Faculty of Social Sciences and the Faculty of Law.
The Chairs initial vocation was to erect around Laval University and the
National Assembly of Québec a constellation comprising a certain number
of other institutional partners and external contributors interested in
supporting the activities and development of the project.
Thus, besides Laval University and the National Assembly of Québec there
are already at this stage several prestigious institutions whose missions
correspond to certain of the Chairs centres of interest.
Among them are to be found, first and foremost, those persons who are appointed
by the National Assembly. They are:
- the Chief Electoral Officer;
- the Auditor General;
- the Lobbying Commissioner;
- the Public Protector.
The National Assembly of France, a representative of another parliamentary
model, is also one of the founding partners.
It is clear that this initial list does not close off the search for partners,
which is one of the Chairs raisons dêtre. In addition to this first
wave, and beyond the search for financial contributors, the Chair can indeed
only be enriched through the participation of new partners, including above
all the other legislative assemblies.
It is for this reason that I invite Canadian legislative assemblies to
join the National Assembly of Québec and become partners of the Research
Chair in Democracy and Parliamentary Institutions. There is no doubt that
such partnerships will be an asset to the Chair from a comparative point