Former minister Benoît Pelletier died at the age of 63

Former Quebec minister Benoît Pelletier, who was the great constitutionalist of the Liberal Party under Jean Charest, died Saturday in Mexico, his family announced. He was 63 years old.

In a press release published Monday morning, Mr. Pelletier’s family deplored the departure of a “caring husband, a devoted, funny, generous and attentive family man and a great lover of Quebec and the French language.” .

This renowned professor of law – especially constitutional law – made the leap into “active politics” in 1998, becoming a member of Parliament for Chapleau, in Outaouais, where he taught at the University of Ottawa, one of his alma maters.

MP Pelletier immediately chaired the special committee of the Liberal Party (PLQ) on the political and constitutional future of Quebec and he is considered the father of the constitutional platform of Jean Charest’s party.

When the Liberal troops took power in 2003, the constitutionalist naturally became Minister of Canadian Intergovernmental Relations, a portfolio that he always retained, with other ministries, until his departure from political life in 2008.

Considered a “federalist Quebec nationalist”, “autonomist” tendency, Mr. Pelletier was a supporter of “asymmetrical federalism” – he fought against fiscal imbalance and for a limitation of Ottawa’s spending power. He was also the father of the Council of the Federation, a grouping of provinces facing the central power of Ottawa.

A supporter of constitutional reforms, he nevertheless maintained, ten years after the narrow victory of the “No” vote in the 1995 referendum, that “the fruit was not ripe” to “reopen” the Canadian Constitution.

An “autonomist federalist”

Born in Quebec on January 10, 1960, Benoît Pelletier obtained a law degree from Laval University in 1981 before working at the federal Department of Justice. He received his master’s degree from the University of Ottawa in 1989 and began teaching there in the 1990s – he was assistant dean of the faculty from 1996 until his jump into politics.

Elected deputy for Chapleau in 1998, he was re-elected in 2003 and 2007; he did not run again in 2008. During his time in Jean Charest’s council of ministers, he was also in turn, notably, responsible for the Canadian Francophonie, Indigenous Affairs and the Reform of democratic institutions – he was supporter of a reform of the voting system and the abolition of the monarchy. He also opposed the Senate reform proposed by conservative federal Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

But Mr. Pelletier was above all the specialist in constitutional matters for the PLQ. Twenty years after the “Beige Book” of Claude Ryan, the constitutional platform of the PLQ published in 1980, just before the first referendum on the sovereignty of Quebec, and five years after the second referendum of 1995, Mr. Pelletier directed the drafting of what would become the new constitutional platform of the PLQ for the 2000s: “A project for Quebec: affirmation, autonomy and leadership”.

An allusion, already in 2001, to autonomy, a concept that he will never disdain: “Personally, I would not hesitate to define myself” as an autonomist, he said in an interview with Duty in 2007. He then claimed to have adopted this term well before Mario Dumont, who made it his own in 2004. “Check out my 2001 report. You’ll see! »

A constitution for Quebec

In his “Project for Quebec”, Mr. Pelletier already talks about the major questions that Quebec should resolve with Ottawa, after the narrow victory of the No vote in the 1995 referendum: fiscal imbalance, asymmetrical federalism and Quebec’s role on the international scene. In 2006, Minister Pelletier concluded an agreement with the Harper government that allows Quebec to appoint a permanent representative within the Canadian delegation to UNESCO.

He was also in favor of the adoption of a Quebec constitution, as several member states of federations have done, including American states, he said, and as the Liberals of Jean Lesage already proposed in the 1960s. M Pelletier still admitted that the idea could annoy some federalists.

“For my part, I have no doubt that most of those who promote the project of a constitution for Quebec do so with the entirely legitimate perspective of providing Quebec with a unifying document, best embodying our wanting to live collectively by defining who we are and what legacy we wish to leave to the generations that follow us,” said the Minister of Canadian Intergovernmental Affairs in 2006 during the first Quebec Congress of Constitutional Law, in Quebec.

After his decade in active politics, from 1998 to 2008, Mr. Pelletier returned to the practice of law and teaching in 2009 at the Faculty of Law of the University of Ottawa. In 2015, the federal government appointed him to the committee on medical assistance in dying.

He was made a Grand Citizen of the Order of Gatineau in 2009, an officer of the National Order of Quebec in 2014 and a member of the Order of Canada in 2016, among other distinctions. He also received the Medal of Honor from the National Assembly in May 2022.


Leave a Comment