June 28, 1971

ROUTINE PROCEEDINGS

MISCELLANEOUS PRIVATE BILLS AND STANDING ORDERS


Fourth report of Standing Committee on Miscellaneous Private Bills and Standing Orders, in the two official languages-Mr. Forget (Saint-Michel). [Editor's Note: For text of above report, see today's Votes and Proceedings.]


CANADIAN CONSTITUTION

STATEMENT BY PRIME MINISTER ON PROPOSED CHARTER

LIB

Pierre Elliott Trudeau (Prime Minister)

Liberal

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.

Topic:   CANADIAN CONSTITUTION
Subtopic:   STATEMENT BY PRIME MINISTER ON PROPOSED CHARTER
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PC

Robert Lorne Stanfield (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Progressive Conservative

Hon. Robert L. Stanfield (Leader of the Opposition):

Mr. Speaker, I trust the House will forgive me, in my almost impromptu response to the Prime Minister, if my remarks are not as polished and finished in form as they usually are. Nevertheless, I should like to make two or three comments on the Prime Minister's statement.

I am encouraged by the suggestion in the statement that discussions on constitutional reform can and will continue whether or not what has been named the Victoria charter is adopted. I make no comment this morning

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Canadian Constitution

as to the contents of the charter or as to how satisfactory they are. The Prime Minister himself has expressed some disappointment, and it may be exaggeration to some extent to describe this package as a charter. However, what I really wish to call to the attention of the House this morning are one or two ambiguities in our present situation.

First, is the Prime Minister of Canada in his statement extending the June 28 deadline, or is he indicating that as far as his government is concerned it is prepared to extend the deadline? This is not clear, I suggest, in what the Prime Minister has said this morning.

Second, in commenting outside the House the Prime Minister made remarks which suggested that in his opinion constitutional reform was not very important. I might say that in view of that I was rather surprised to find him making a statement on the subject this morning. I ask him, however, to consider very earnestly the effect of the impression he gave outside the House that constitutional reform is, after all, not very important and that we can continue to get along without it. I ask him to consider what effect this impression will have upon the importance the people of Canada as a whole attach to continued discussions, the effect it will have upon the importance that the provinces generally attach to continued discussions and, indeed, the willingness of provinces that do not attach too much importance to constitutional reform to continue to be involved in the laborious process of constitutional discussions. If the Prime Minister believes continued discussions and the achievement of reform are important he should without hesitation make this abundantly clear to the people of this country.

I say without hesitation that I believe constitutional progress is important in Canada. I was not at Victoria but from what I have heard I have the impression progress was made in the discussions there. I think it would be a pity if this were lost. I repeat that I believe it is important that these discussions continue. I believe it is important that the Prime Minister make this clear.

I recognize there are other urgent matters for us to consider in Parliament and to which the government of Canada and other governments should devote attention. I believe we can do both. I do not believe we should defer these other important matters for constitutional discussions. But I say in all earnestness that in my opinion, while I understand fully the impatience felt in many parts of the country about the time being spent on constitutional discussion and while I understand fully the regret with regard the decision of the government of Quebec, for the future of this country it is important that we recognize the importance of continuing these efforts and it is important that we press forward and discharge our responsibilities.

Topic:   CANADIAN CONSTITUTION
Subtopic:   STATEMENT BY PRIME MINISTER ON PROPOSED CHARTER
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NDP

David Lewis

New Democratic Party

Mr. David Lewis (York South):

Mr. Speaker, it is of course regrettable that agreement could not be reached at Victoria. I want to emphasize the precise words I have used because I think the people of Canada may have received an incorrect impression. There was not agreement reached at Victoria. That is why it was necessary to

have some time for the respective cabinets to consider whether or not they would agree to the document prepared in Victoria. The real regret is not that the Prime Minister of one of the provinces of Canada has said no to the charter. The real regret is that at Victoria no agreement was in fact reached among the 11 heads of government. No agreement was reached by the 11 heads of government for reasons that I, of course, do not know even though I was in Victoria, because I was not able to attend the closed sessions.

I say, Mr. Speaker, I do not entirely blame Mr. Bou-rassa for hesitating to agree to the so-called charter because I suggested to some friends of mine in Victoria that the revised 94A was pretty confusing in that the language left entirely in doubt which level of government would in fact have priority in the legislative fields indicated even in the suggested amendment to 94A. I read a few days ago in a western paper-I do not have the clipping with me but I think my memory is correct- that in an interview the Prime Minister in reply to a question by Claude Ryan, said that he was not quite sure how the court would decide if there were a federal law dealing with family allowances and a legislated Quebec plan of family allowances and the two conflicted. He was not sure exactly what would happen if a court had to decide the issue. I think the Prime Minister said that. He nods assent to my statement. If that is the case, then it must be obvious to any thoughtful Canadian that it would not have been very easy for Mr. Bourassa to accept the charter if the Quebec government was seeking, as it was, priority in the fields that were added. I am not saying whether it should have it, although personally I have great sympathy with their desire in that direction. But if that is what it was seeking and it was abviously not getting it, it would have been far too silly to expect the government of Quebec to say yes to the charter, having no absolute certainty as to precisely what it had in the amended 94A and the possibility that in fact it had nothing at all.

The Prime Minister said in his statement-and of course one agrees with him-that in any such difficult job as rewriting a constitution, compromise and give and take are necessary. I suggest respectfully that that does not mean deliberately confusing, uncertain and ambiguous language, because if there is one thing that our constitution should try to avoid, or it will never succeed, it is deliberately ambiguous language.

The Prime Minister has said, not in the House but outside, that Mr. Bourassa was faced by a very small opposition. He paid the compliment to the few hundred members of my party in Quebec that they were heading the opposition. I wish they were strong enough to do that. I appreciate the compliment. But the fact is-and it must be obvious to all Members of Parliament and to all the people of Canada if we are to write a new constitution and retain a united country, as I and all members of the House want to do-that the opposition to this so-called charter appears to be unanimous apart from some of the

June 25, 1971

federal members of this House. The fact is that the document brought from Victoria has been opposed by the Liberal party of Quebec-the Prime Minister's friends, much more important than my friends in Quebec, I am sorry to say-by the Liberal government in Quebec, by every opposition party in the legislature and, so far as I have been able to ascertain in the time I have had to read the Quebec press, by every French language newspaper and even in an editorial in the Montreal Gazette. So it is lighthearted and, I suggest, not very responsible to dismiss the opposition to the charter in Quebec as coming from little groups like the NDP and from the intellectuals of whom the Prime Minister was a member until he declared otherwise.

I think this matter is of great importance, and I do want to take a minute or two to express these thoughts because they concern-

Topic:   CANADIAN CONSTITUTION
Subtopic:   STATEMENT BY PRIME MINISTER ON PROPOSED CHARTER
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IND

Lucien Lamoureux (Speaker of the House of Commons)

Independent

Mr. Speaker:

Order, please. I realize the matter is important as suggested by the hon. member, but there still has to be a limitation on the statements made by hon. members in response to a ministerial statement. I am sure the hon. member will want to take that into account.

Topic:   CANADIAN CONSTITUTION
Subtopic:   STATEMENT BY PRIME MINISTER ON PROPOSED CHARTER
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NDP

David Lewis

New Democratic Party

Mr. Lewis:

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. It is less than responsible, I repeat, to dismiss the opposition to the charter in Quebec as coming from little groups when it obviously reflects almost unanimous opposition in that province.

Topic:   CANADIAN CONSTITUTION
Subtopic:   STATEMENT BY PRIME MINISTER ON PROPOSED CHARTER
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?

Some hon. Members:

Oh, oh!

Topic:   CANADIAN CONSTITUTION
Subtopic:   STATEMENT BY PRIME MINISTER ON PROPOSED CHARTER
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?

An hon. Member:

No, Sir. You don't know anything about that.

Topic:   CANADIAN CONSTITUTION
Subtopic:   STATEMENT BY PRIME MINISTER ON PROPOSED CHARTER
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NDP

David Lewis

New Democratic Party

Mr. Lewis:

Mr. Speaker, if it does not reflect the majority of the members in Quebec then there should either be an election, or all the members of the Quebec Legislature, with very few exceptions, know nothing about their province and these wise men across the aisle know everything, and I doubt that.

Topic:   CANADIAN CONSTITUTION
Subtopic:   STATEMENT BY PRIME MINISTER ON PROPOSED CHARTER
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LIB

Pierre Elliott Trudeau (Prime Minister)

Liberal

Mr. Trudeau:

Is the hon. member suggesting an election on this issue?

Topic:   CANADIAN CONSTITUTION
Subtopic:   STATEMENT BY PRIME MINISTER ON PROPOSED CHARTER
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IND

Lucien Lamoureux (Speaker of the House of Commons)

Independent

Mr. Speaker:

Order, please. May I remind the hon. member of the terms of the Standing Order. Another hon. member reminded the Chair the other day that statements by ministers or statements in response to ministerial statements should be limited, as much as that is possible in this House, to statements of the facts, should not be argumentative, and should not be presented in such a way as to provoke debate. I would again ask the hon. member to take that into account.

Topic:   CANADIAN CONSTITUTION
Subtopic:   STATEMENT BY PRIME MINISTER ON PROPOSED CHARTER
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LIB

Pierre Elliott Trudeau (Prime Minister)

Liberal

Mr. Trudeau:

Again, are you suggesting an election on this issue, a federal election?

Topic:   CANADIAN CONSTITUTION
Subtopic:   STATEMENT BY PRIME MINISTER ON PROPOSED CHARTER
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NDP

David Lewis

New Democratic Party

Mr. Lewis:

No, I wasn't suggesting that.

Topic:   CANADIAN CONSTITUTION
Subtopic:   STATEMENT BY PRIME MINISTER ON PROPOSED CHARTER
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LIB

Pierre Elliott Trudeau (Prime Minister)

Liberal

Mr. Trudeau:

It sounded like it. You had better correct the blues.

Topic:   CANADIAN CONSTITUTION
Subtopic:   STATEMENT BY PRIME MINISTER ON PROPOSED CHARTER
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NDP

David Lewis

New Democratic Party

Mr. Lewis:

Mr. Speaker-

Topic:   CANADIAN CONSTITUTION
Subtopic:   STATEMENT BY PRIME MINISTER ON PROPOSED CHARTER
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IND

Lucien Lamoureux (Speaker of the House of Commons)

Independent

Mr. Speaker:

Order.

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Canadian Constitution

Topic:   CANADIAN CONSTITUTION
Subtopic:   STATEMENT BY PRIME MINISTER ON PROPOSED CHARTER
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June 28, 1971