THE success of the Canadian government in undermining the Quebec parliament’s powers by spending in traditionally devolved areas holds a warning for Scotland, the leader of Parti Québécois has told The Sunday National.

Paul St-Pierre Plamondon was speaking to this paper during a visit to Scotland as part of a European tour to forge ties with and learn from other independence movements.

Plamondon made international headlines in 2022 for refusing to swear the compulsory oath to King Charles III after he was elected as an MNA in the National Assembly of Quebec. The refusal sparked a constitutional battle that the Québécois leader told The Sunday National has parallels with the fight for independence.

The Parti Québécois leader also spoke about the importance of maintaining a cultural identity on the world stage in a wide-ranging interview during his Scottish visit – which also saw him meet with former first minister Alex Salmond.

The oath to the King

The National: King Charles III

“Normally you can’t change the Canadian constitution from a provincial legislature,” Plamondon says. “But that’s what we did.”

The MNA’s refusal to allow his first act of a parliamentary term to be swearing an oath to the King was initially met with scepticism domestically. Critics said it was a stunt intended to distract from his party’s poor performance in the 2022 elections.

The elections were poor for Parti Québécois, which returned just three MNAs, its worst ever result and a far cry from the party of government it had been for decades.

But Plamandon said the narrative quickly shifted once the public took more notice.

“I don’t think it should be the first act that you do as an elected member of parliament, not to give your loyalty to the people but to a foreign king. It doesn’t make any sense.

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“We were asked several times by the media to let it go. We were told at that time that it was frivolous, that it didn’t mean anything nowadays, that people didn’t care about that, that we had more important issues. I disagreed.

“When they saw me try to enter parliament as an elected person, and be stopped because of the King of England, public opinion shifted very dramatically. Even though people had said it was frivolous, it became a central event in our politics.”

Plamondon draws parallels with the independence movement, which he says faces exactly the same criticisms.

“When I try to talk about independence, federalists say we have more important things to do, this is not a priority, it’s never going to work, exactly what they said about the oath to the King.

“But on the following day we were successful … and everybody started saying of course it didn’t make sense to swear an oath to a foreign power that was harmful to our history.

“No one said they regret it and would like to swear an oath to the king at the next legislature. In the same way as independence will happen at some point, and the next day nobody will say they want to go back to Canada.”

Devolution spending

The National:

Plamondon says that after the second Quebec independence referendum in 1995 – which No won by just 54,000 votes with 4.67 million cast – the Canadian government found a new tactic of suppressing support for Yes.

In a parallel with what the UK Government is doing with its Levelling Up Fund, the central federal government in Ottawa (above) “became active in all sorts of spheres so as to create a dependency on federal money”.

Plamondon said: “What they started doing was trespass the limits of the constitution by spending money to create loyalty. They imposed a form of loyalty … and they were quite successful.

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“[Canadian provinces] lost power over time because the central government overrides the constitution by spending tax money in [devolved areas].”

He went on: “From a Scottish perspective, if they’re doing the same thing it’s a fundamental topic.

“They will obviously say ‘how can you ever make it without our participation when you know we help you with funding this and that’.

“It’s our money. I remind citizens all the time: it’s your money. It went from your pocket to Ottawa, and it came back with Canadian rhetoric on it.”

The world stage

The National:

“The Parti Quebecois has abandoned, for a decade, diplomacy abroad,” Plamondon says. His time in Europe – which as well as Scotland includes Oxford for a speech on abolishing the oath to the King, Paris, and Brussels to meet with Catalan independence leaders – is aimed at reversing that.

“Good friendships in places that have situations where they think about the same topics is just positive, no matter what the collaboration could become or not,” Plamondon says. “It’s just a good thing that we talk about Quebec, about its specific situation from a linguistic and cultural point of view, its journey towards freedom and self-determination.”

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The Parti Québécois leader says it is sad that Quebec does not have the same rights to compete as a nation on the world stage as Scotland does.

“In the case of Quebec, the mere existence of the brand, the flag of Quebec is not really granted,” he says.

“There have been attempts for Quebec to compete in international competitions as a nation, as Scotland can do, and it was always prevented by Canada and by federalist politicians who want to prevent independence.

“We have the same problem with diplomacy. Our interests in Quebec will not necessarily be the same as those in Ontario and Alberta, and so we try to exist internationally, but we haven’t done enough in that sense.”