Quebec enacts bill to prevent government paralysis in the event of Queen Elizabeth II's death

Queen Elizabeth II looks on after awarding Captain Sir Thomas Moore his knighthood during a ceremony at Windsor Castle in Windsor, England, Friday, July 17, 2020. (Chris Jackson/Pool Photo via AP)

Quebec no longer has to worry about falling into a legal limbo should Queen Elizabeth II suddenly die or decide to abdicate.

On Friday, the National Assembly adopted Bill 86, which protects the Quebec state and its institutions from a possible total paralysis in the event of the death or abdication of Queen Elizabeth II, who is officially Canada's head of state.

The bill, which had only four sections, was tabled on March 11 by the Minister responsible for Canadian Relations, Sonia LeBel.

She intervened when government lawyers alerted her to the fact that if the Queen of the United Kingdom, who is 95 years old, died before the National Assembly could legislate, Quebec could be totally paralyzed and forced to call an early general election.

According to the legal experts at the Quebec Secretariat for Canadian Relations, who assist LeBel, the three foundations of power in Quebec City (the executive, the legislature and the judiciary) could then have been shaken, or even no longer be able to function. In addition, public office holders (MNAs and cabinet ministers) would immediately lose their power.

Laws passed after the end of the sovereign's reign could be challenged in court. Not only that, but the National Assembly would be dissolved and all proceedings before the courts would have had to be reintroduced.

To avoid such a catastrophic scenario, Bill 86 stipulates that the "devolution of the Crown" (i.e. the death or abdication of the Sovereign) shall not have the effect of terminating the activities of the Parliament of Quebec, the government and the courts, nor of terminating any office or employment.

The act also provides that the oath of allegiance to the sovereign, which all MNAs must take, will not lapse.

Quebec is in fact the only Canadian province to have placed itself in such an awkward position, one that has lasted for some 40 years.

In 1982, in conjunction with the patriation of the Canadian Constitution, the Rene Levesque government struck out a section of the law providing that the legislature could not be dissolved in the event of the death of the sovereign.

Since then, apparently, no Quebec government has realized the risk involved in this decision.

Bill 86 "will clearly and precisely neutralize all legal effects related to the devolution of the Crown, and the activities of the state will be able to continue without interruption," said LeBel in a news release.

"While Crown vesting is a rare event, it was important to enact clear legislation that will now address all of the drawbacks," said LeBel. "Therefore, despite the changes that the upcoming, devolution of the Crown will bring to the Canadian monarchy, it will have absolutely no effect on the conduct of state business in Quebec."

-- this report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on June 4, 2021. 

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