At the time
this article was written Pierre Duchesne was Secretary General of the Quebec
The bicentennial of Quebec’s
parliamentary institutions in 1991 inspired us to cast a backward glance at our
democratic beginnings, recalling the critical importance of the Constitutional
Act, 1791; of the first elections, in June 1792; of the first session of
Parliament in December 1792; and the parliamentary reforms that led to the
National Assembly as we know it today. After the bicentennial, the National Assembly
launched a project designed to make Quebec’s parliamentary institutions better
known, understood and appreciated.
As part of its Educational Mission, the
National Assembly has produced documents and has organized activities for
students at the primary and secondary levels and for their teachers.
To promote a better understanding of
democracy, the National Assembly in 1992 produced a videotape entitled (Democracy
in the Schoolyard and Beyond, aimed at schoolchildren in grades five and
six. To date, over 5000 French-language copies and over 500 English-language
copies of the videotape and its activity guide have been distributed to primary
schools. Active participation in the decisions and putting them into practice
has enabled schoolchildren to understand what democracy means.
An activity, launched very recently by the
Speaker of the National Assembly, Parlement Écolier (Mock Parliament)
is intended for school children in grade six. They are invited to write laws,
elect a “member of the legislature”, and attend a sitting of the National
Assembly. Since 1997, over 6000 schoolchildren have taken part in this learning
activity by writing a piece of legislation in class, by electing one their
classmates “member of the legislature”, by debating three selected pieces of
legislation in class, and by listening to televised debates chaired by the
Speaker of the National Assembly. We prepared two activity guides, one for
teachers and one for the elected “member”. This activity is designed to help
children nearing the end of primary school to develop an awareness of:
- the legislative work of MNAs and the workings of the
National Assembly, through simulation and role-playing exercises;
- the legislative (or decision-making) process;
- respect for others;
- attention to the ideas of others;
- the importance of the role of each citizen in a
- the importance of choosing one’s representatives well;
- respect for the National Assembly as a democratic
Reports from participants indicate that,
through this activity, the National Assembly is contributing to the education
of citizens in democracy, and that its efforts are appreciated.
A number of documents have been prepared for
students in the fourth year of secondary school. One of these is À la
découverte des institutions parlementaires du Québec (Discovering
Quebec’s Parliamentary Institutions), a 168-page volume with transparencies
that traces the history of Quebec’s institutions from the time of the Royal
Government to the present day. So far, we have distributed over 7000
copies of this document, mainly to secondary-school teachers, faculty of
education students and professors, and Cégep and college teachers. There is
continuing demand for this document, which is also available on CD-ROM as part
of the series used to teach Quebec history.
Another document, Faites votre histoire
en théâtre! (Your History as Theatre!) suggests various plays that
can be put on using eight themes, from the beginning of parliamentary
government to the time when women were given the right to vote.
A book and video cassette for teachers
entitled 1791-1792: La démocratie naissante au Québec comprises
six presentations on the origin of parliamentary democracy in Quebec.
The activities inspired by these documents
contribute to citizenship education. The documents have been used in workshops
at congresses and forums for secondary-school teachers, and many of them use
these educational tools in their classroom. The response indicates a high
degree of satisfaction.
Activities for Secondary and
The Quiz game: Tournoi Jeunes Démocrates
is very popular among teachers and students and was inspired by the television
quiz show Génies en herbe which took place for the eighth time on April
14, 15 and 16, 2000. Its topic is democracy, from ancient Greece to
contemporary Quebec. Nine hundred questions are prepared each year.
Participants do classroom research on fifteen sub-topics, which include the
history of democracy, democracy in the world, charters of rights and freedoms,
the various stages in Quebec’s political and constitutional history, Quebec’s
main political parties, elections and election mechanisms, Quebec’s
parliamentary system, international organizations, and fundamental laws. This
year, more than 350 students and 70 teachers took part in the contest.
For many students this event serves as a
stimulus to learning. Participating in the activity enables them to assemble
the pieces in the great puzzle of history. They learn to work as a team, to
persevere, and to consult each other while striving toward a common goal.
The part of the quiz that focuses on
democracy in the world opens young people’s eyes to events in the rest of the
world. School political clubs are invigorated by this activity, because
it allows their young members to gain a better grasp of current events through
a good understanding of the past, and of political and parliamentary concepts.
This activity is also offered to college-level students.
Teachers appreciate this type of activity, because it injects vitality
into classroom teaching and promotes learning by allowing students to connect
events and to understand the changes and upheavals faced by our constantly
evolving democratic society.
The eighth session of the Forum Étudiant took
place in the Quebec Parliament Building from January 9 to 14, 2000. This
simulation of the work of the National Assembly is aimed at college-level
students who wish to gain a better understanding of the workings of
parliamentary institutions, of the stages in the legislative process and of the
multifaceted role of MNAs.
There are two parts to this activity. In the
fall, regional forums are held under teachers’ supervision. They are followed
by the provincial forum, which is attended by about 150 young people. Like the
National Assembly, the Forum Étudiant has 125 members, and they require
administrative support (a secretary general, assistant secretaries, and so
forth). Moreover, since the National Assembly’s debates are covered by the
press, the Forum Étudiant puts out a newspaper, the Vox Populi,
prepared entirely by the students. Over five days, five issues are produced,
featuring news reports, columns, and descriptions of the debates.
The Forum Étudiant is organized in
co-operation with political science teachers. Political science and history
teachers run the regional forums and are closely involved in advising the
student parliamentarians and journalists at the provincial forum. Experts from
the National Assembly also take part. The student parliamentarians prepare the
legislative agenda, including speeches, bills, ministerial statements, question
period, motions and budget speeches. They elect individuals to parliamentary
and administrative offices by secret ballot. The Speaker of the Forum
Étudiant is also elected by secret ballot of the assembly as a whole. An
absolute majority is required to win.
About 30 Cégeps and colleges take part in
this activity each year. The Forum Étudiant serves as a school in
democracy. Young people actually do the legislative work of MNAs, with all the
advantages and requirements of the democratic system. They play an active role
The Forum Étudiant allows
participants to identify and experience the various stages of the legislative
process, to understand the complexity of the issues before them, and to select
strategies leading to solutions appropriate to the political reality.
Specifically, the activity promotes:
- knowledge and understanding of the concepts of
- mastery of the skills required in oral and written
- the development of certain intellectual and civic
- an increased participation in public life;
- contact between colleges, leading to further
The participating teachers consider this
activity essential to a better understanding of democracy and citizenship and
to the development of committed, responsible citizens.
Activities for Teachers
A Mock Parliament for History and Political
Science Teachers took place at the National Assembly on October 22, 1994 in
conjunction with the 32nd congress of the Société des professeurs d’histoire
du Québec, held in Quebec City. It was another definite contribution
by the National Assembly to citizenship education, this time for the benefit of
teachers. A second Parlement des professeurs will be held for political
science and history teachers at the Quebec National Assembly on Saturday,
October 14, 2000. These initiatives strengthen our conviction that we have a
role to play in education for democracy and citizenship.
In September and October 1994, the National
Assembly organized a forum for Cégep and college teachers entitled Le
parlementarisme: un outil démocratique nécessaire? The event, sponsored by
the the Association of Former Members of Quebec was part of the National
Assembly’s educational mission and was intended to make college-level teachers
more aware of and interested in Quebec’s parliamentary democracy. The forum
proceedings are available from the National Assembly.
On September 24, 25 and 26, 1998, to mark
its 20th anniversary, the Jean-Charles-Bonenfant Foundation, in co-operation
with the Association of Former Members of Quebec and the Quebec Political
Science Association held a forum entitled Le Parlementarisme et les médias.
The event was held in response to requests from college-level teachers and from
participants in the forum held in September 1994. The proceedings of this forum
are available from the National Assembly.
Every year, the National Assembly hosts two
mock parliaments organized by students from various Quebec universities. In
addition to hosting and instructing the students during the ten days, the
Assembly arranges tutorials with experts in legislation and parliamentary
procedure to help them with their work. The Parlement Jeunesse celebrated
its 50th anniversary in 1999, and the Parlement Étudiant will mark its
15th in 2001.
These two student parliaments help to
impress upon young people the important role played by MNAs and the Legislative
Assembly in safeguarding democracy in Quebec. In the last five years, the Parlement
Jeunesse has hosted five young Belgians who have taken part in the debates
at the National Assembly, and for the last three years young Quebecers have
travelled to Belgium for the same purpose. Such exchanges open young people’s
eyes to the world around them. The Parlement Jeunesse is turning
increasingly outward, and the Parlement Étudiant has also hosted a few
foreign students since 1998.
The Parlement des sage (Elders’
Parliament), organized in co-operation with the Association de défense
des droits des personnes retraitées et préretraitées, will take place at
the Quebec National Assembly on September 11,12 and 13, 2000. The activity will
provide older citizens with an opportunity to address issues important to them,
and to gain a better knowledge of the legislative process and the crucial role
played by their elected representatives.
The Foundation Jean-Charles-Bonenfant awards
every year to four university students a ten-month internship at the National
Assembly. Each young person is twinned with an MNA, thus gaining a theoretical
and practical knowledge of parliamentary institutions and of the role and work
of parliamentarians. The preparation of a research paper enables the student to
make a thorough study of one aspect of the parliamentary process. The
internship is recognized as a credit course by Laval University.
The web site of the Educational Mission of
the National Assembly contains information on all the educational activities
organized by the Service de la production pédagogique and by the
Jean-Charles-Bonenfant Foundation. The site also features an on-line
newspaper, Le Cyberjournal, and an Education Information Forum
Le Cyberjournal allows internet users to express their views, either
individually or as part of a class, on the subject of democracy. Educational
games test their knowledge of the parliamentary system and democratic
institutions. The purpose of the newspaper is to allow citizens to
discover the democratic tools available to them.
Finally, La Veille pédagogique (Education
Information Forum) is intended to promote and disseminate the results of
research in education for democracy, and to provide professors, researchers,
teachers, students and other individuals interested in the subject with a
virtual meeting place for obtaining and exchanging useful information.
The purpose of the Educational Mission is to
teach young people about democracy and thus help them become committed and
The activities of the National Assembly
promote dialogue and consultation, with the ultimate aim of developing a
well-informed, committed, responsible and vigilant citizenry. The subjects
discussed and the themes selected for the forums, mock parliaments and quiz
game reflect the major concerns of our society, which often feels the impact of
the world’s problems and crises.
These activities teach students from the
primary to the university level about democratic mechanisms and principles,
about the importance of democratic values, about the role of every citizen in
society, and about shared responsibility.