Quebec Studies

Courting Cartier: English-Canadian Prime Ministers and their Québec Lieutenants

Quebec Studies (2006), 41, (1), 3–26.

Abstract

3 Courting Cartier: English-Canadian Prime Ministers and their Québec Lieutenants J.P. Lewis Carleton University Introduction As pundits and observers speculated on a possible Conservative government during the recent 2006 Canadian general election, the question frequently arose: Who would represent Québec in a Conservative-led federal cabinet? With the Tories low in the polls in Québec, the possibility of winning any seats in the province appeared to be slim. But Stephen Harper and his new Conservative party made a surprising breakthrough in Québec by winning ten seats. This not only helped Harper nationally in securing a minority government, but also aided him in the challenging task of forming his first cabinet. With ten members to choose from, Harper now had the ability to construct a Québec component in his cabinet and to appoint a Québec lieutenant. It was not a new challenge for an English-Canadian prime minister. In this article I argue that since John A. Macdonald's appointment of Georges-Etienne Cartier, English-Canadian prime ministers have been mostly unsuccessful in following the Québec lieutenant model set by the Cartier-Macdonald partnership. An adequate starting point in cabinet literature for discussing the Québec lieutenant theory is W.A. Matheson's comprehensive 1976 work The Prime Minister and the Cabinet. According to Matheson: "the English-Canadian prime minister has often selected one French-Canadian minister and accorded him special status, with a particular responsibility for Québec" (34). Matheson argues that Macdonald initiated the practice and relied heavily on his Québec lieutenant, Cartier. Walter Gordon, a former Finance minister in Lester B. Pearson's cabinet, articulated his views of the Québec lieutenant position in his memoirs, in which he argued that "if the Prime Minister comes from English-speaking Canada, he or she should have a French-speaking Quebecker as their chief lieutenant and if the Prime Minister is from Québec, he or she should have an English-speaking second-in-command" (322). Gordon's comment demonstrates the belief in Québec lieutenants shared by practitioners and academics alike. Thirty years ago Matheson astutely predicted "the problem of keeping French Canada satisfied with its cabinet representation will in the future be more difficult" (43). English-Canadian prime ministers have encountered difficulty in successfully following the Québec lieutenant model due to three institutional factors. Electoral results, political parties, and the centralization of power in the prime minister's office have acted as structural barriers to the successful representation of Québec in English-Canadian prime ministers' cabinets. Most Québec ministerial appointments have resulted in token regional representation rather than significant political responsibility. After Québec Studies, Volume 41, Spring/Summer 2006

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Lewis, J.