Right Hon. L. B. Pearson (Prime Minister):
Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a short statement about arrangements in contemplation of the forthcoming constitutional conference which opens next Monday.
The agenda of the conference was included with my letter of January 16 to the provincial premiers, copies of which were tabled in the House of Commons on January 25 and included in Hansard of that day. In my letter I suggested to the premiers that "we agree to make public the opening sessions of the first day when the various governments ordinarily present their initial statements". I also suggested that consideration could be given to having the closing session public. Arrangements are accordingly being made to permit full coverage by television, radio and press for these sessions.
So far as admission to the conference room itself is concerned, the main problem is space. The conference will be held in room 200 of the west block. After providing for the various delegations and their staffs, for television and radio facilities, and for the translation and secretarial facilities that are necessary, there will, I am afraid, be very little space in the actual chamber itself for members of parliament, for representatives of the press or for others. It has seemed to the government to be best to divide what space there is equally between representatives of the information media and members of the different political parties represented in the House of Commons. I wrote yesterday to the leaders of the various parties indicating that there would be, of course, accommodation for the leaders themselves, and giving an allocation of seats on a
party basis roughly in proportion to representation in the house. It will be for each party to determine to what members the seats should be allocated.
For other members of parliament who may be in a position to be present and for the press we will have closed circuit television in a number of rooms in the west block. In addition there will be the normal television and radio facilities.
As I said yesterday, it will be for the conference to decide when and to what extent it may be desirable to hold executive sessions. Several of the premiers have expressed the view that executive sessions may be necessary for the purpose of negotiation and full and frank discussion leading to agreement. Such private sessions have, of course, been the almost invariable pattern, for federal-provincial conferences in the past, but I think a substantial departure from past practice is desirable because of the special nature and importance of the matters to be discussed.
As members are aware, the Minister of Justice is visiting the provincial capitals to have advance discussions with the premiers and their advisers in order to ensure that the meeting beginning February 5 will be as productive as possible. The government will also be publishing, and will table in the House of Commons later this week, a document on its proposal for the establishment of a Canadian charter of human rights. The recommendations of the royal commission on bilingualism and biculturalism have of course been public for some weeks and they will be on the agenda. I shall be making an opening statement to the conference, which I expect will be accompanied by additional material that will be made public-that is, the additional material -before the conference opens.
It is the hope of the government, as I am sure it is the hope of all members of the house, that we may see real progress at the conference itself and at meetings to follow, in the achievement of more satisfactory arrangements within the confederation of today and in the review of our constitution to ensure as effective provision as possible for the confederation of the future.
January 30, 1968
Canadian Constitution [DOT] (2:40 p.m.)
Subtopic: STATEMENT ON ARRANGEMENTS FOR FORTHCOMING CONFERENCE