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Traditions and Symbols

The hôtel du Parlement, where the Members of the National Assembly sit, is rich in history and filled with symbols, many of which are linked to British parliamentary tradition, the political system in effect in Québec since 1791.

The Two Houses

The most important symbols are without a doubt the two Houses, located in the heart of the hôtel du Parlement. The existence and role of the National Assembly and Legislative Council chambers link our parliamentary institutions to those in London.

The Legislative Council Chamber

The Legislative Council ChamberToday, the Legislative Council Chamber is home to sittings of the parliamentary committees and special events such as the swearing-in of MNAs and members of the Cabinet. It is decorated in red, the colour traditionally associated with the English aristocracy.

At one time, the Legislative Council Chamber was home to the Legislative Council, an appointed body resembling the British House of Lords or the Canadian Senate. The Legislative Council was abolished in 1968.

The National Assembly Chamber

The National Assembly ChamberSince 1886, MNAs elected by the people of Québec have sat in the National Assembly Chamber. Its walls were once green, a colour probably associated with the people, like those of the House of Commons of the British Parliament in Westminster, but were painted blue in 1978, a colour better suited to televised broadcasts of the debates.

The rectangular layout of seats in the National Assembly Chamber is another remnant of British parliamentary tradition. The Government and the "Loyal Opposition" thus sit facing each other, whereas in many other countries, such as France, the seats are arranged in a semi-circular pattern.

A key reform in 1968 brought about significant changes to modernize Québec’s parliamentary institutions. In the process, new French terms were introduced to replace those that had been borrowed from English. For example,

  • the Assemblée législative (Legislative Assembly) became the Assemblée nationale (National Assembly)
  • the Orateur (Speaker) became the Président (President)
  • the greffier (Clerk) became the secrétaire général (Secretary General).

Assistant clerks are now known as Table officers.

Objects and Installations

Several objects and installations in the National Assembly Chamber are parliamentary symbols.

The Mace

The MaceThe Mace symbolizes the Assembly’s power to meet and make laws, a power granted by the King or Queen, and represents the authority of the President, or Speaker, of the National Assembly. The large, ornate gold Mace is also a symbol of the power of the Assembly to protect its constitutional rights and those of the MNAs from external threat, a responsibility conferred upon the Sergeant-at-Arms.

At each sitting, the President of the Assembly enters the National Assembly Chamber followed by the Sergeant-at-Arms bearing the Mace. The Sergeant-at-Arms places the Mace on the Table. In order for legislation passed during parliamentary proceedings to be valid, the Mace must remain on the Table for as long as the President is seated on the Throne.

The orientation of the Mace on the Table has varied over the years. Today, the crowned end of the Mace is turned towards the Government, to the President’s right.

The Throne

The ThroneUnder the Standing Orders of the National Assembly, the President mediates parliamentary debates from the Throne.

In the National Assembly, the word "Throne" refers to the combination of the chair and the structure behind it. Much like the Mace, the Throne symbolizes the authority of the President, which is derived from Royal authority, hence the use of the same term to designate the seat of a king and the seat of the President.

The Throne is topped by a carved wooden crown to recall the link with the British monarchy. A Québec flag placed since 1976 to the right of the Throne symbolizes the fact that the National Assembly of Québec has evolved separately from Westminster, where there is no flag.

The Table

Clerks’ TableThe Table has always stood in the centre of the National Assembly Chamber, in front of the President. It is also called the Clerks’ Table, since the Secretary General and Table officers were traditionally known as clerks. It is there that the Secretary General and the Table officers receive all the documents tabled during Assembly proceedings. The Mace rests on a cushion on the Table during sittings.

The first Table, used from 1886 to 2007, has been classified as a historic object and is on display in the hôtel du Parlement.

The new Table, installed in the fall of 2007, harmoniously and ergonomically integrates all the technological tools used by today’s Table officers. 

Charles Huot’s The Language Debate

Painting The Language Debate, by the artist Charles Huot.This painting by Charles Huot has been hanging above the Throne since 1913. It depicts one of the first sittings of the Parliament of Lower Canada in January 1793, when it was decided that French would be allowed in the House. This was a key moment during which the French majority took one of the first steps to adapt the English parliamentary system to its own reality.

The Press Gallery

Press Gallery of the National Assembly ChamberThe Press Gallery overlooks the floor of the National Assembly Chamber. The parliamentary journalists who have sat in the Gallery have played an important role in history: for a long time, they kept the only record of democracy at work in Québec.

Parliamentary Customs

The proceedings of a session of Parliament are rich in customs stemming directly from British tradition.

At the time of Confederation, in 1867, the Legislative Assembly of Québec adopted the same rules of procedure, rituals and customs as the Parliament in Westminster. These rules, the fruit of history and tradition, would last a full century before being updated.

Some of these customs still exist today and are clear symbols of a British-style constitutional monarchy.

The Role of the Lieutenant-Governor

The occasional presence in the House of the Lieutenant-Governor of Québec, the representative of the King or Queen, recalls a time when the monarch shared his or her authority with elected officials.

The abolition of the Legislative Council in 1968 greatly reduced the pomp and circumstance surrounding the Lieutenant-Governor’s presence during parliamentary sessions. For a long time, the Lieutenant-Governor’s arrival was announced by canon fire and followed by a lavish ceremony in the Legislative Council Chamber. These very British traditions were done away with in 1968 for the sake of modernity and efficiency.

Today, almost all of the executive power is held by the Premier and the Cabinet, who share it with the Lieutenant-Governor. The Lieutenant-Governor opens each Session with a speech, assents to bills that have been passed and prorogues the Session at a time determined by the Premier. 

Moment of Reflection

A moment of reflection has been observed at the beginning of each parliamentary sitting since 1976. Prior to this, it was customary for a prayer to be said, a tradition that dates back to 1922. An even older prayer had been read in the Legislative Council since 1792, in keeping with the tradition in Westminster.

Lights on the Central Tower

Lights on the Central Tower.When the Assembly is sitting, four lights on the hôtel du Parlement’s centre tower remain lit night and day, a tradition that dates back to 1908.

The lights were originally part of the decorations for the city of Québec's tricentennial celebrations in 1908, but they were then left in place and used to indicate the presence of MNAs in the House. For more than a hundred years, the Sergeant-at-Arms has been lighting them whenever the Assembly sits.