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Canadian flag back in Quebec assembly – for now

A Canadian Maple Leaf flag flies near the Peace tower on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Feb.15, 2012.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

The Canadian flag made a brief appearance again in the upper chamber of the National Assembly for the swearing-in of opposition party members after the Parti Québécois had it removed on Monday.

It is customary for political parties in Quebec to determine whether they want the Canadian flag present or not for official ceremonies in the so-called Red Room. Both the Liberals and the Coalition Avenir Quebec requested on Tuesday that the Maple Leaf be reinstated at its familiar place next to the Quebec flag for the two separate swearing-in ceremonies of their members.

However, the Maple Leaf's return to good grace was but a temporary move. If history repeats itself, the Canadian flag will once again be put in storage after premier-designate Pauline Marois's government is officially sworn into office  on Wednesday.

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"We haven't made a final decision. But keep in mind that in the past, whenever we had control over these decisions, the Canadian flag was always removed," said PQ spokesperson Éric Gamache.

That was certainly the case on Monday when the Canadian flag was removed from outgoing Premier Jean Charest's office as premier-designate Pauline Marois prepared to take over. It was also the case when the flag was removed during the PQ swearing-in ceremony of the party MNAs on Monday, triggering an outcry across the country.

Flags -- and the powerful and emotional symbolism they carry for most citizens -- have not always been a regular fixture in the Quebec National Assembly. The Quebec flag was first placed in the National Assembly's legislative chamber by PQ Premier René Lévesque in 1976 and then in the upper chamber in 1983.

Meanwhile, the Canadian flag was first introduced into the Quebec National Assembly after Liberal Premier Robert Bourassa returned to power in 1985.  He had it placed in the upper chamber but never in the more prestigious legislative chamber largely because of the backlash he feared it would create among nationalists groups in Quebec.

When the PQ returned to power in 1994, separatist Premier Jacques Parizeau had the Maple Leaf removed from the upper chamber only to have it returned to its place of origin by the staunchly federalist Premier Jean Charest after the Liberals returned to power in 2003.

In the end, it will be up to the Office of the National Assembly to determine the fate of the Canadian flag in the upper chamber. The Office takes administrative and regulatory measures and acts as the National Assembly's Board of Governors. The Office is made up of five government MNAs and four opposition members. Despite its minority government status, the PQ will gain control over the Office's decisions and will have the final say over whether to remove the Maple Leaf for the duration of the PQ mandate.

CAQ leader François Legault said he was against changing the current rule that allows for the Canadian flag to be present in the upper chamber. But getting involved in a flag war with the PQ isn't a priority, he said.

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"The last thing people want to see at the National Assembly is a battle over flags," Mr. Legault said. "What we want is to bring Quebeckers together and this is not the right way (of doing it) if we have this objective."

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About the Author
Quebec City political correspondent

Rhéal Séguin is a journalist and political scientist. Born and educated in southern Ontario, he completed his undergraduate degree in political science at York University and a master's degree in political science at the Université du Québec à Montréal.Rhéal has practised journalism since 1978, first with Radio-Canada in radio and television and then with CBC Radio. More

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