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The people of Québec have seen many constitutions throughout history, all of which were adopted by European powers, the notable exception being the current one, passed in 1982 by the Canadian federal parliament with the support of all but one of Canada's provinces. (We will let you guess which one.) To this day, not a single Québec Parliament, whether in the majority sovereignist or federalist, liberal or conservative, has agreed to sign the 1982 constitution. (Read the Constitutional saga article for historical background.)

Below are external resources on the constitutions of New France, Québec and Canada.

Québec, formerly Canada

Throughout its history, the political entity that is today Québec has had different names. Under French rule, it was named Canada and was the most developed and central colony of New France. The other North American colonies were Acadia (1604), Plaisance (1662), Louisiana (1699), and Île Royale (1713). The administration of France's colonial possessions in America was initially left to various chartered companies. In 1663, New France was elevated to the status of a province of the Kingdom of France. By the 1750s, French Canada and French Louisiana were in practice administered independently from each other.

Canada was itself divided into three districts, each one having its own government: Québec, Trois-Rivières and Montréal. The Governor General of New France was also the Governor of Canada and the Governor of the Québec district. Québec City was the capital of both Canada and all of New France.

Under British rule, the political entity formerly known as Canada was renamed "Quebec", then "Lower Canada", than "Canada East" and finally "Quebec" again, but this time as a province of the new British North American Dominion of Canada.

Federal Canada, formerly British North America

The British North America Act, passed by the Parliament of Great Britain in 1867, gave birth to the Dominion of Canada, a federal union of three British American provinces out of seven. The North American provinces of "Canada" (formerly two separate colonies named "Upper Canada" and "Lower Canada"), "New Brunswick" and "Nova Scotia" (formerly one colony named "Nova Scotia") became federated provinces in a new state named "Canada", itself an autonomous colony of Great Britain. The provinces of Upper Canada and Lower Canada, merged as a single province between 1841 and 1867, were re-separated and given the names of "Ontario" and "Quebec".

Since 1867, "Canada" is a word that refers to a federal Dominion that is today an independent State and "Quebec" refers to the province previously known as "Lower Canada", itself previously known as "Quebec", itself previously known as le Canada, the most developed region of the French province of New France, a remote colony of the Kingdom of France. This renaming is an important source of confusion when discussing the history of both Québec and Canada, because there is, in a way, one "Canada" inside another "Canada".

The interpretation of this historical event (the birth of a Dominion given the name of "Canada") is radically different in Québec when compared to that of the other parts of the federation. In Canada outside Québec, the "confederation" of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia is the act of foundation of Canada itself, and Canada really became Canada in 1867, with the creation of the new federal state. Some Canadian historians even refer to the whole period before 1867 as "pre-confederation" or "colonial" history.

In Québec, the conservative politicians who joined the self-proclaimed "Great Coalition" determined to bring about the federal regime sold their federation project to the electorate by promoting it as a confederative pact between two "founding peoples". A much obfuscated fact in the history of the birth of the federal state, the Quebec liberals opposed the project as vigorously as the liberals of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick did. Only in Ontario was there a conservative-liberal coalition supportive of the plan, while in the other provinces the initiative only had the support of the conservative elements of society. While the anti-confederation movement eventually died out in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, it continued in Québec to this day.

In 1931, the Statute of Westminster gave formal independence to the Dominion of Canada, the Commonwealth of Australia, the Dominion of New Zealand, the Union of South Africa, the Irish Free State and the Dominion of Newfoundland. The impossibility for the provincial and federal governments to come to an agreement on a constitutional amendment formula resulted in Canada abandoning the "patriation" of its constitutional documents. The said "patriation" was later accomplished in 1982, without the consent of the Quebec legislature, as mentioned in the first paragraph.

United Kingdom

From 1763 to 1847, all laws intended to rule the lives of Quebecers had to be approved 1) by a Governor representing the Crown but receiving orders from the Colonial Office attached to the British government and for many laws 2) by the Imperial Parliament of Great Britain, which includes the House of Commons, the House of Lords and the Crown.

Between 1848 and 1866, the laws had to be approved 1) by a Governor representing the Crown but who in fact was letting the civil government be run by a Cabinet made out of members of the elected Legislative Assembly.

From 1867 to 1931, all provincial laws had to be approved by the Parliament of Quebec and federal laws by the federal Dominion Parliament. Slowly, British laws came to be replaced by Quebec laws or Canadian laws.

As of 1931, all Quebec laws and Canadian laws could be adopted without the approval of the Imperial Parliament, except laws modifying the constitution of the Dominion. Since 1982, the legal and political separation with Great Britain was complete except at the symbolic level, since the Sovereign of the UK was also the Sovereign of Canada, represented by the Governor General.

Colonial regimes

Quebecers suffered quite a number of successive colonial regimes throughout their history. Here they are, in chronological order:

  • 1534 to 1663 - First French Colonial Regime, Company Rule: 129 years
  • 1663 to 1759 - Second French Colonial Regime, Sovereign Council: 96 years
  • 1759 - British Occupation of the district of Québec: 3 months
  • 1760 to 1763 - First British Military Regime: 4 years
  • 1763 to 1774 - British Royal Regime: 11 years
  • 1774 to 1791 - First British Parliamentary Regime: 17 years
  • 1791 to 1837 - Second British Parliamentary Regime: 46 years
  • 1838 - Second British Military Regime: 1 year
  • 1839 to 1840 - Third British Parliamentary Regime, Special Council: 2 years
  • 1840 to 1867 - Fourth British Parliamentary Regime, Union of Upper and Lower Canada: 27 years
  • 1867 to 2010 - Fifth British Parliamentary Regime, federal Dominion: 140 years

Total = 476 years in 2010

Other relevant documents

Constitutional terminology

See also