"Maintaining Balance Requires Tact and Political Acumen."

State Legislatures, March 2012 | Go to article overview

"Maintaining Balance Requires Tact and Political Acumen."


Jacques Chagnon, a member of the Quebec Liberal Party, was elected president of the National Assembly in Quebec in April 2011 after serving as vice president since 2007. He was first elected to the Assembly in 1985 and has been re-elected ever since.

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From 1985 to 1994, Chagnon was parliamentary assistant to the minister for administration and public service. In 1994, he was appointed as the minister responsible for education, administration of legislation regarding professions, and application of the charter of the French language.

From 1994 to 2003, when his party was in the opposition, he served in a variety of roles. When his party regained power in 2003, he served as minister of public security.

State Legislatures: Explain what you see as the most meaningful difference between the National Assembly in Quebec and legislatures in the United States.

Chagnon: The executive and legislative powers are not articulated the same way in Quebec's British-style parliamentary system. The premier and the ministers, who together form the executive, are first and foremost elected representatives and sit in the National Assembly with all the other elected members. The premier thus has a direct hand in the legislative process and can introduce legislation, take part in the ensuing deliberations and vote bills into law. In addition, it's the premier's prerogative to dissolve the National Assembly and call elections, which aren't held on fixed dates, although there is a five-year limit on any given legislature.

At every sitting of the Assembly, the premier and the ministers are held to account and must answer the opposition's questions during Question Period, which is one of the tools available to Parliament to scrutinize the government's actions.

SL: Describe the role of the president, or speaker, in your parliamentary system.

Chagnon: In the parliamentary arena, the president's role is to chair the proceedings of the National Assembly in a completely neutral fashion. He opens, suspends and adjourns sittings, preserves order and decorum, and enforces the Standing Orders during debates. He sees that the rights and privileges of the Assembly and its members are upheld so business can be conducted efficiently and without any kind of hindrance. His functions also include deciding who has the floor, calling motions for discussion in the House and announcing the results after a vote is held. To quote the Standing Orders, the president has all such powers as he may require to perform his duties.

SL: How, in your opinion, should the speaker's role be exercised in the House?

Chagnon: I was called up to the chair to serve as president of the National Assembly of Quebec, one of the world's oldest legislative assemblies and the only one in North America with French as its working language, on April 5, 2011. …

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