Benoît Pelletier, 1960-2024 | Quebecers lose an ally

I want to talk to you about Benoît Pelletier, who died suddenly on Saturday, the eve of Easter. He had just turned 64. Much too young to leave, to leave his family, to leave all of us in Quebec.

I am truly sad, as surely are all those who had the chance and privilege to know him. Benoît Pelletier was a particularly kind and attentive person. He was respectful of all opinions. Very competent in constitutional law, he was always generous and patient in helping all those (students, media, etc.) who wished to understand the issues related to the Constitution, particularly those concerning Quebec.

In any case, I can attest to his generosity towards me.

In 2021 and 2022, I was the spokesperson for the official opposition on French language matters. Having read the texts that Benoît Pelletier had written for more than 20 years on constitutional and linguistic questions, including what he had proposed for the Liberal Party of Quebec (PLQ), notably in his 2001 report on the political future and constitutional of Quebec society, I knew that he could be of good advice to support me in the study of the imposing Bill 96 tabled in spring 2021.

During the months that this process lasted, Benoît Pelletier was a mentor and a guide who supported me with a lot of patience, whether for example on issues related to charters or exemption provisions.

Having himself been a member of the Liberal Party of Quebec and the government, he was well aware of the challenges related to the linguistic question within the PLQ. It was necessary to think about the notions of individual rights protected by charters and, at the same time, about collective rights, always at stake when it comes to the French language in Quebec. His thinking was elaborate and his positions moderate. He always advised me in a non-partisan way, with the best interests of Quebec in mind.

He was an extraordinary teacher, always present and available. I remained in contact with him after my departure from politics in 2022 in order to continue our exchanges on questions of language, culture and the Constitution.

Benoit Pelletier was a federalist who said openly and clearly, supported by his legal and constitutional expertise, that Quebec could seek more powers and autonomy within the federation. He has often advocated for the development of a Constitution of Quebec, for the place of Quebec and the French-speaking world within Canada and internationally. He was also interested in indigenous issues. He is the designer of the Canadian Council of the Federation. He also called for a renewal of democratic institutions. He gave us hope and the desire to be more assertive and bold within Canada.

In early 2021, he came close to death following serious complications from COVID-19. He was in a coma for several weeks. He recovered from illness with exceptional strength and courage. His enthusiasm and convictions were never affected. He was a survivor who wanted to continue his work, continue to contribute to society, to give his opinions on constitutional, linguistic and other issues, always with the same smile and the same kindness.

Benoît Pelletier will be greatly missed. Not only to his family and loved ones, but also to all of Quebec which has just lost a remarkable law professor, celebrated by his peers, and an expert jurist who had our collective interests at heart.

He contributed a lot to politics, to his way of practicing it, and to academic life, where many students were able to benefit from his knowledge and expertise.

He always had the courage of his nationalist convictions, within a federalist party. As a politician, he worked to strengthen Quebec’s place on the Canadian stage and on the international scene.

When I asked him how he felt as a minister in his own party, he told me that he sometimes “rowed against the tide”, that “the winds could come from the front”, but that he kept his optimism and his determination to bring new ideas for a federalism more respectful of Quebec’s issues. He served as a model for those who have at heart the interests of a Quebec which claims a strong place to protect its culture and its language.

We have lost a warm, humble and reassuring human being who tried to pacify us instead of antagonize us. He was a formidable actor in the reflection on our society, on the constitutional, political, legal and linguistic posture of Quebec. Nationalist Quebecers, federalists or not, have just lost a great ally.


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