Day One – Québec City: The House of the People
Landing in Québec City is like walking into a storybook, and the National Assembly of Québec is like its gingerbread house. Festooned with golden fleurs-de-lis, green maple leaves, and featuring a pale blue chamber instead of the traditional parliamentary green, the interns were struck by the sheer beauty of the building upon arrival to the city.
While the National Assembly itself embodies history and tradition, this has not stopped its staff from being forward-thinking and innovative. Our first meeting of the day, with Philippe Vincent Foisy of 98.5 FM, Caroline Plante of the Montreal Gazette, and Maya Johnson of CTV Montreal, involved a fascinating look at how the Press Gallery in Québec has adapted to the modern electorate. With a Press Gallery consisting of 59 members, the journalists at the National Assembly are a force to be reckoned with.
Michel Bonsaint, Secretary General of the National Assembly, is another great innovator at the National Assembly. Mr. Bonsaint performs the function of Clerk for the Assembly. Under his direction, a new, contemporary visitor’s centre is being built at the front of the parliamentary building. It will be accessible and designed with the public in mind, since, as Mr. Bonsaint pointed out, the National Assembly “is the House of the people.” It will include broad windows through which visitors can watch committee proceedings, and exhibits highlighting the historic significance of the National Assembly.
Mr. Bonsaint previously had great success with a vegetable garden planted in front of the Assembly. He told us, “When I see a kid with a strawberry in their mouth outside the Parliament, I think that’s very cool; it’s beautiful.” That joy and enthusiasm for parliamentary democracy was evident throughout our time at the National Assembly; like biting into a strawberry on a warm summer day.
Exploring both Inside (and Outside) of the House
Did you know that the province of Québec was the last province to disband their upper house in 1968?
Or, that when when cameras were introduced in 1978, the Legislative Chamber had to be painted blue to ensure that Members of the National Assembly did not appear sick from the green walls on TV?
During our first afternoon in Québec City, we took a tour of Québec’s beautiful Assemblée Nationale. Under the watchful eye of our tour guide Randy, we explored the legislative and former senate chambers. Built in the French Second Empire style, the outside of the building and the interior design represent French influence. Functionally, the Québec Legislature reflects a Westminster-style government. Effectively, French on the outside and British on the inside. The mix of British and French influences in the Assemblée Nationale’s architecture, which symbolized Québec’s long and unique history, fascinated us interns.
We finished off our formal part of the afternoon by chatting with Krystal Mclaughlin, coordinator of the Legislature’s educational services. Ms. Mclaughlin is responsible for all of the model parliaments as well as the Québec boursiers stagiaires. Along with boursiere Julie Martel, we all compared our experiences as legislative interns/fellows, thinking about best practices for both of our programs.
To finish off our first day in the great city of Québec, we shared a meal and drank a few pints of the finest Québec has to offer with the Boursieres at Pub Le Projet. After warming up at the cozy pub, we strolled out into a cool Québec evening to check out Rue Saint-Jean, Old Québec, and the Plains of Abraham. Spent from a day of engaging meetings and beautiful sights, we went to bed early to prepare for an exciting morning of meetings with Deputées.
Day Two – Québec City: Inspirational Words from the Members Themselves
I started our second day in Québec City in the dark. However, a frosty run along the rolling hills of the Plaines d’Abraham was well worth it to watch the sunrise over the Fleuve Saint-Laurent. Our first meeting of the day was over breakfast in the National Assembly with a Member of the National Assembly (MNA), Sylvain Gaudreault, from the Parti Québécois who represents Jonquière. After the bacon, Mr. Gaudreault passionately described his riding and the need for the separatist movement to modernize in Québec. We then proceeded to the library of the National Assembly for a tour of their collection, including a 5 million year old fossil in a marble pillar. It was both an informative and delicious morning!
Next we met with David Birnbaum of the Québec Liberal Party who represents the riding of D’Arcy-McGee in the National Assembly. He described the unique experience of representing a riding with a large anglophone population in Montreal, and spoke passionately about Québec nationalism and multiculturalism. Mr. Birnbaum also left us with inspirational advice should any of the OLIPers ever decide to seek elected office: first, figure out why we want to run and only pursue that interest if it is for the right reasons and second, that we should only run if we truly believe that becoming a politician is an honourable, serious and legitimate way of contributing to positive change in the world.
Afterwards we chatted with Maryse Gaudreault, Liberal MNA for the riding of Hull – a woman who wears many chapeaus both inside and out of the Québec Legislature, including that of Vice-President of the National Assembly and Chair of the Non-Partisan Women’s Caucus of the Québec Legislature (amongst many many others). Donning a proudly feminist hat, Ms. Gaudreault spoke of the importance of women standing together in the Legislature to address issues facing women in politics as well as women across la Belle Province.
-Sara Gajic, Emily Trudeau, Hannah Forsyth, Leslie Muñoz