Interviewee: Mr. Francois Cote The Secretary General, The National Assembly of Quebec （Date: August 31, 2007; Place: Parliament Building, 1045 des Parlementaires, Quebec; Interviewer/Writer: Takahiro Miyao）
It was really nice getting together with Mr. Cote in Quebec, because my “Japan-Quebec Blog” was born out of the idea that I expressed to Mr. Cote and Mr. Michel Bissonnet, President of the National Assembly, who visited Japan about a year ago, and my blog activity has eventually led to my visit to Quebec. In my interview, Mr. Cote explained (with the help of Ms. Dominique Drouin as an interpreter) about some important developments in the National Assembly and also in Quebec-Japan relations, as seen in the following summary.
Summary of Mr. Cote’s Interview
First, I would like to explain about our “Friendship League” with Japanese politicians. When we visited Japan last year, we met a lot of national and local politicians, especially the president and other members of Tokyo Metropolitan Government. As a result, we have agreed to have an exchange program for parliamentarians in order to promote a closer relationship between Quebec and Japan. In fact, we have an agreement between Canada and Japan that every time we send a delegation to Japan, Japan should reciprocate by sending their delegation to Canada. So, for the first time last week, a group of Japanese politicians visited us on that reciprocal basis, and also high-ranking officials will come to join our big celebrations in Quebec City next year.
Second, I wish to mention the application of information technology in our parliamentary system, which may interest some Japanese politicians. Now, we are introducing new technology to help our parliamentarians by making their work easier. Here are some examples. Each committee has its own webpage so that committee members have access to this page from their offices as well as from their committee rooms to see necessary information about bills, amendments, as well as public comments. Also the general public can send their opinions and comments to the parliament by e-mail, or use our videoconference system to discuss with committee members. In the Assembly room, we are now installing a “high-tech table,” where the Chairman can communicate with assembly members who have PCs on their desks, so the Chairman might have a net meeting in the assembly room, if necessary.
In applying IT to the parliamentary process, we are the leader in Canada. This is due to the fact that not only our Assembly but also all of our committees are open to the public, and all the discussions are aired by our parliamentary TV channel. So it is not too difficult to introduce IT into this open system. At any rate, this kind of IT application will improve the degree of public participation in the political process and also contribute to a paperless society for the sake of sustainability in the environment. On the other hand, we need to overcome a lot of challenges associated with new technology. In particular, the new system can be confusing to the public that cannot be sure whom they are sending comments to within the parliament. Also from our viewpoint, some public comments are not so good in quality, at least partly due to the use of IT, where people tend to respond too quickly without thinking much. In any case we need to deal with these challenges by learning from our own experience as well as from other countries like Japan.
Postscript (by T. Miyao) In response to my question about possible abolition of the Upper House in Japan, where the ruling coalition lost its majority, Mr. Cote only said that it would be too delicate for him to comment on Japanese politics, but clearly pointed out that in the case of Quebec, senators were not elected but appointed by the prime minister when it was abolished in 1968, a situation that might be different from other countries like Japan, where senators are elected by the general public. After the interview, he took me to the Assembly room, where the “high-tech table” was being installed in front of the Chairman’s seat. It was quite an interesting sight, because of a blend of old traditions in the parliament and new technology in communications. Then I realized this must be the Quebec way of survival by absorbing new ideas in an ever-changing world while preserving its long-held traditions to keep its identity. In the Assembly Room