Right Hon. P. E. Trudeau (Prime Minister):
Mr. Speaker, it was agreed at the constitutional conference held in Victoria last week that the governments there represented would advise the secretary of the constitutional conference by Monday, June 28, whether they accepted the Canadian constitutional charter, 1971. I wish to advise the House that the government of Canada has today advised the secretary that the charter is acceptable to it.
While the government is prepared to accept the charter and to recommend its approval to the two Houses of Parliament, I want to make it clear that the federal government regards it as a compromise. The provisions of the charter do not, in several respects, represent what the government would have preferred. This is the nature of all negotiated agreements where there are substantial differences of opinion to be accommodated. The essence of agreement is concession and the federal government, before and at Victoria, made concessions on a number of matters which it regarded as important in order that agreement might result. This was equally true, I think, in the case of the provincial governments. I think one could say that the charter is a good compromise in the sense that, even though no government got exactly what it wanted, every participant felt that Canada and Canadians generally would be better served with such a document than without it. That being the nature of compromise, and therefore the nature of the charter, it is a matter of particular disappointment and regret that the government of Quebec has decided that it is not prepared to accept the charter as it stands.
There is perhaps some slight ground for encouragement in the fact that the statement by the Prime Minister of Quebec suggests that the reason for the rejection by the Province relates to one part of the Charter only- what he referred to as "uncertainty" in relation to the meaning and effect of Articles 44 and 45 of the Charter which constitute the revised version of section 94A of the British North America Act. I made it clear, in reply to questions by the press in Toronto on Wednesday, that if the Government of Quebec has specific suggestions to remedy whatever uncertainty concerns them, the Federal Government will receive them with an open mind and will, if necessary, communicate with the Premiers of the provinces to see whether there might be any means of meeting this problem that would be acceptable to all concerned.
I must, of course, at the same time emphasize that one cannot consider that the Charter is indefinitely open for acceptance. Parties to a compromise cannot be considered to be bound by it, or to any part of it, unless the agreement that it was intended to achieve emerges within a reasonable time.
It will of course be a matter of disappointment if the charter does not eventually complete the course that was contemplated for it-with debate and approval by legislatures and both Houses of Parliament. I am convinced that it would constitute a major advance for Canada. I think too that it would provide a means gradually and progressively to adapt our total constitution and build a better future for all provinces and for the country as a whole. But if the charter is not accepted, our country will still go on. As I said at the opening of the constitutional conference at Victoria, constitutional revision is a formidable undertaking: a challenge of great dimension for all Canadians. It will be achieved only through mutual understanding, patience and compromise. But whether it is achieved early or late, one day it will be completed. In the interim-and after its achievement-our task in government and in Parliament is to make real the great promise of our future within a united Canada.
Subtopic: STATEMENT BY PRIME MINISTER ON PROPOSED CHARTER