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Federalism conference leads the way on constitution discussions

The Institute for Intergovernmental Relations "Canada at 150" conference was held June 12 - 14 at the Donald Gordon Conference Centre.

It was just over 30 years ago that the Québec government of Premier Robert Bourassa presented his province’s five requirements for Québec to sign the Canadian constitution. When seeking a venue to communicate their demands, Minister of Canadian Intergovernmental Affairs Gil Rémillard chose a conference co-hosted in Mont-Gabriel, Québec by the Institute for Intergovernmental Relations (IIGR) at Queen’s University.

Just recently, Queen’s played host to another significant moment in Québec-Canada relations. At the IIGR’s recent conference, entitled “Canada at 150: Federalism and Democratic Renewal”, Québec’s Minister of Canadian Relations and the Canadian Francophonie Jean-Marc Fournier gave a keynote address regarding his government’s policy proposal entitled, Québec Affirmation and Canadian Relations: Quebecers, Our Way of Being Canadian. It marked the first time the policy was presented outside of Québec and the first academic presentation of the proposal, which sets out a new cultural vision for Québec for the years ahead and re-opens the discussion about Québec’s place in the constitution. The selection of venue was deliberate – Minister Fournier had asked to present at the IIGR conference because of its reputation for political expertise and high-level scholarship on federalism and the constitution.

“Fournier’s appearance was significant in a broader sense because we are witnessing a revival of the constitutional issue in Canadian politics, although this time with a significant call by the Québec Government and Indigenous groups for a serious look at the place of Indigenous peoples in the federation and in Canada more broadly,” says Elizabeth Goodyear-Grant, Director of the Queen’s IIGR and Associate Professor, Department of Political Studies. “We are considering, together with the School of Policy Studies, of hosting a forum of some kind over the fall or winter that explores the constitutional place of Québec and indigenous peoples.”

Now in its third decade, the State of the Federation conference series, presented by the Queen's IIGR, examines contemporary challenges facing Canada. This year, Canada’s sesquicentennial provided an occasion to celebrate, take stock of, and critically reflect on the country’s political institutions and practices. In addition to looking at the latest developments in Québec, the 80 attendees and panelists explored issues such as senate reform, electoral reform, and Indigenous governance.

Dr. Goodyear-Grant says a highlight for many attendees was the Saturday morning panel, which featured well-known scholar Keira Ladner, former Premier of Yukon Tony Penikett, and Primary Advocate for Youth with the Independent First Nations Alliance and Chiefs of Ontario Darian Baskatawang, who is also a Queen’s University student.

"Being a part of the IIGR conference was an entirely new experience for me,” says Darian. “It was my first presentation to a room full of academics, rather than the usual policy advisor, program managers or youth. It was a riveting experience to see some people shed tears, laugh, smile, and lean in all in the same presentation – my presentation. Participating in the panel was interesting, to say the least. It highlighted variants of the same idea around reconciliation: what it looks like to who, why, and how they believe it can come about. I learned plenty - I joked about it being my politics degree in brief! If invited, I will definitely come back year after year."

The response was equally positive from attendees, with many sharing that they had a great time and intended to join future IIGR conferences. To learn more about the IIGR and the State of the Federation series, visits queensu.ca/iigr