Donald James JOHNSTON

JOHNSTON, The Hon. Donald James, P.C., O.C., Q.C., B.A., B.C.L., D.C.L.(Hon.), D.Econ.(Hon.)

Personal Data

Independent Liberal
Saint-Henri--Westmount (Quebec)
Birth Date
June 26, 1936
lawyer, teacher, writer

Parliamentary Career

October 16, 1978 - March 26, 1979
  Westmount (Quebec)
May 22, 1979 - December 14, 1979
  Saint-Henri--Westmount (Quebec)
February 18, 1980 - July 9, 1984
  Saint-Henri--Westmount (Quebec)
  • President of the Treasury Board (March 3, 1980 - September 29, 1982)
  • Minister of State for Science and Technology (September 30, 1982 - June 29, 1984)
  • Minister of State for Economic Development (September 30, 1982 - December 6, 1983)
  • Minister of State for Economic and Regional Development (December 7, 1983 - June 29, 1984)
  • Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada (June 30, 1984 - September 16, 1984)
September 4, 1984 - October 1, 1988
  Saint-Henri--Westmount (Quebec)
  • Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada (June 30, 1984 - September 16, 1984)
January 18, 1988 - October 1, 1988
  Saint-Henri--Westmount (Quebec)

Most Recent Speeches (Page 7 of 385)

October 1, 1987

Mr. Johnston:

Mr. Speaker, I do not know if my honourable friend and colleague from Montreal-Sainte-Marie was here when I made my comments, because I did explain that we are very proud to have a Quebec in which French is promoted. We are involved in the process. As I said, our children go to French schools. They work in French. So, as I explained, we stayed in Quebec because of the French fact, not in spite of it.

On the contrary! So obviously he did not understand the comments I just made here. But when he asks why I am afraid of the provincial Premiers, I say that we must have a national vision. We are here to stand up for the national interest, not the separate individual provincial interests. The Premier of each province is supposed to look after the interests of his own province. Mr. Ghiz was not elected by the people of Alberta. Only one legislature is supposed to represent the national interest. Its members are elected from all across the country. It is this Parliament. It is up to us to represent the national interest, not the interests of the Province of Quebec in this House. We have been elected to defend the national interest, to promote the national interest. It is not the responsibility of provincial premiers to defend this interest. They cannot do it; they have no incentive to do so. And that is why we cannot leave the management of our country in the hands of 10 Premiers meeting privately behind closed doors with the Prime Minister of Canada. That is not what Canada is all about.

Subtopic:   SCHEDULE
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October 1, 1987

Hon. Donald J. Johnston (Saint-Henri-Westmount):

Madam Speaker, I would like to use the time available to me today to speak, first of all, to my colleagues, friends, constituents and fellow citizens in the Province of Quebec. Madam Speaker, as you know, there are supporters of the Constitutional Accord who insist that to be against or to reject the Accord is to be against Quebec; that to reject the concept of Quebec as a distinct society is to be against Quebec itself; that not to accept the Constitutional Accord unamended, despite its flagrant shortcomings, means not accepting Quebec as a member of our constitutional family. That, Madam Speaker, is tantamount to blackmail. However, there are many people who have let themselves be convinced by these simplistic and unsound arguments.

October 1, 1987

If I had more than 20 minutes, I would be able to demonstrate to you, and convince those who listen with an open mind, that this radical change of course contemplated by the constitutional Accord could weaken if not destroy the Canadian Federation. We are embarking upon a dangerous course towards decentralization, a poorly thought-out constitutional dead-end caused by the requirement that the provinces must be unanimous on major constitutional amendments. This is a step backward from the vision of a bilingual and multicultural Canada and a return to what some people call the two-nation concept, one anglophone and the other francophone. To those who say: "Donald, if you vote against the Accord, you are voting against Quebec", I say: To vote for the Accord is to vote against Canada.

I am for a confident and strong Quebec, within a strong Federation.

If I wanted to destroy the Canadian federation, if I wanted to suppress the rights of language minorities, and if I wanted to create a loosely constructed federation, a kind of alliance among 10 provinces, with a distinct society in Quebec, endowed with powers that would not be available to the other provinces, if I wanted to wipe out the possibility of creating jointly-financed national programs like health insurance, if I wanted to do all that, Madam Speaker, I would vote for the Constitutional Accord.

I will therefore vote against it.

Madam Speaker, I am being accused of wanting to maintain the dream of a bilingual country, a dream that does not reflect the Canadian reality that Quebec is a francophone island in an anglophone country.

I am being accused of refusing to accept a fact of life, namely that Quebec is a distinct society within the Canadian federation and that the Quebec National Assembly and the Quebec Government must be able to protect and promote that distinct identity, as described in the Constitutional Accord. Today, Madam Speaker, I therefore wish to concentrate on this particular aspect, namely, Quebec as a distinct society.

First of all, Madam Speaker, to explain my philosophy I must comment briefly on my own origins. I am not originally from Quebec. I was raised on a small farm in the Ottawa Valley, just 12 miles from Parliament Hill. But for more than 40 years I lived in the Province of Quebec, first in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and later in Montreal. My father retired in Vancouver, and my wife comes from Nova Scotia.

And so, Madam Speaker, I feel at home everywhere in Canada but particularly in Quebec where I have chosen to reside. Madam Speaker, I am sorry I did not learn to speak French before my adult years, and that explains my strong accent. I mention these points of personal history simply to tell you that I chose to make Montreal my home. Like many other anglophones in the province-I believe the great majority-we not only accept the promotion of French in "la belle province", but we take an active part in the process. Our children speak French, they work in French and, far from being hostile to the French fact we are proud of it! We are in the Province of

Constitution Amendment, 1987

Quebec not despite the French fact but because of the French fact. Although there was an exodus of anglophones after the election of the Parti quebecois, those who remained chose the Quebec option and have no intention of abandoning their province.

Madam Speaker, my problem with the Constitutional Accord lies far beyond Quebec linguistic issues. But I emphasize that the protection of minority rights remains a basic point in this debate, whether we are talking about the 800,000 people who speak English in Quebec and can be found in every socio-economic stratum of society, about the rights of francophones outside Quebec, about women, about native people, about Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Indians, all visible minorities, just to name a few. In my judgment, given the legal scope of the distinct society clause, there is no doubt that minority rights could be prejudiced under the proposed agreement.

However, Madam Speaker, let us get back for a moment to the dream of a bilingual country from Newfoundland to British Columbia.

As I see it, the Accord will indeed put an end to this dream, this dream about a bilingual country where Canadians who speak French or English or are bilingual will be entitled to public services in the language of their choice throughout Canada. A country where education would be available in either French or English in every region. Unfortunately, and there is no doubt on this point, in both its tone and direction the Accord leads toward a French-speaking Quebec in an English-speaking country. Admittedly, it is true that we have not yet fully realized the bilingual Canada of our dreams, but instead of applauding the progress already made and of continuing in the same vein, the Government is telling us that we should entrench in the Constitution what it considers to be the Canadian reality. For my part, I say that you should never enter public life if you are satisfied with reality, satisfied with the status quo.

Did Sir John A. Macdonald accept the Canadian status quo of his time? Or rather, did he dream of a strong and united federal country-a dream which guided his policies? Was the building of a railway across this beautiful country, which is the subject of the book The National Dream by Pierre Berton, not inspired by this dream? Was the vision of Laurier, who said that the 20th century belonged to Canada, not a dream also? Even if it is impossible to make our dreams come true, we must still make sure that our society progresses toward those dreams. As for me, Madam Speaker, I am convinced that the dream of Henri Bourassa, Laurier, St-Laurent, Pearson, and more recently Trudeau, namely the dream of the bilingual Canada which I have described, is a dream which can come true. Indeed, it is essential for this dream to come true if we want to have a strong and united Canada which can compete with the rest of the world. As far as this dream is concerned, Madam Speaker, the Accord represents a disappointing failure.

October 1, 1987

Constitution Amendment, 1987

Faced with this Accord, what would be the thoughts of Henri Bourassa, the great Canadian nationalist who stated the following in 1912:

No, indeed, French, we have the right to be because of our language; Catholic, we have the right to be because of our faith; free, we have the right to be because of the Constitution; Canadian, we are before anything else; British, we have as much right as anyone else to be. And these rights should be ours to enjoy throughout the Confederation.

Let me also quote the words of Archbishop Langevin, who attended a conference in Montreal that same year on the occasion of the first Congress of the French language in Quebec:

We do not recognize the right of anyone to stop French Canadians at the Quebec border to tell them: From this point on, you are no longer at home. We are at home everywhere in Canada.

Now, 75 years later, Madam Speaker, we are abandoning this dream. It seems to me that what has been achieved to date justifies our confidence in the future of the policies which have made it possible for Canada to make such extraordinary progress.

The legal recognition of Quebec as a distinct society represents in my view a capitulation to the philosophy of those who favour the coexistence of two nations on Canadian territory, namely a francophone nation and an anglophone nation. Many people say to me: "Donald, it is obvious that Quebec is a distinct society." There is for instance Professor Beaudoin, and I shall now reply to the comment of my friend, the Hon. member for Saint-Denis (Mr. Prud'homme). As Professor Beaudoin stated before the National Assembly Committee:

Because the language and culture of a majority of its population are French, and because it operates under a French civil law, Quebec is a distinct society.

Well, even if we support Professor Beaudoin's point of view, observation of fact should not be entrenched in a Constitution, because of their legal consequences. As another professor suggested:

Let us suppose the Constitution stated that Toronto is the Financial capital of Canada.

While this may be exaggerated, it makes the point.

There is no doubt that Quebec has distinctive characteristics. Its history, language and culture are different from those of the other provinces, there is no doubt about that. But the other provinces also have distinctive characteristics. Let us take for instance the case of Newfoundland which has a different history and culture; the Acadian population in New Brunswick, the Ukrainians in the Western Provinces; the unique characteristics of British Columbia, and so on. In other words, every province has a distinctive character. These differences are also based on an economy which changes considerably from one region to another, from one province to another, so that each region is different from the other regions, each province is different from the other provinces.

That is why we have here in Canada a federal system which makes sure that the individual interests of the partners in

Confederation are looked after by the provincial Governments, each being independent in its own area of responsibility. If we accept Mr. Beaudoin's definition that Quebec is a distinct society because the language and culture of its majority are French, and because it operates under a French civil law, we must also recognize that all these rights and characteristics are now protected by the Canadian Constitution. Why, then, should we add the notion of a distinct society to the Constitution? Is it purely to give more power to the province-that is to say, to the provincial politicians?

There is no doubt that because of its special status as a distinct society Quebec will enjoy powers which will not be available to the other provinces. Those who suggest this is not the case are frankly wrong. The Joint Committee has taken care not to call witnesses who would have proven that point. For instance, Madam Speaker, is it not strange that the Joint Committee did not insist on the presence of official spokesmen for the Quebec Government to explain their interpretation of that clause? Would Mr. Bourassa's Government be satisfied if Quebec gained nothing with its "distinct society"? I do not think so.

Before the National Assembly, referring to the Constitutional Accord in last June, Mr. Bourassa said: "... It must be emphasized that the entire Constitution including the Charter, will be interpreted and enforced in the light of that distinct society clause. Legislative jurisdiction is the target and this will enable us to consolidate our gains and win new ground." This statement by Mr. Bourassa is in flagrant conflict with the position of the federal Government as expressed on many occasions by Senator Murray.

I would like to accept the government point of view given by Senator Murray but any student of constitutional law knows that many important powers have been allocated through the interpretation of the division of powers. For those who maintain that the distinct society clause is merely a rule of interpretation, I quote, this time with approval, the following comment made by Mr. Beaudoin: "It is a rule of interpretation which has changed Canadian federalism."

In this instance, Madam Speaker, he was right. Therefore it is clear: there is no doubt that there will be a change in the distribution of powers such that Quebec will have powers not available to other provinces. With such an approach, we are setting out upon an extremely dangerous road to an unbalanced federation. A clear consequence of that new approach will be a castration of the role of Quebec's politicians and bureaucrats at the national level, once Quebec takes on important powers not granted to other provinces. And if there are questions concerning the nature of powers that could be transferred, I would be pleased to answer then, Madam Speaker, once I have concluded my comments.

October 1, 1987

To conclude, when the Prime Minister tells us how much the Canadian federation has been strengthened by this Constitutional Accord because Quebec now becomes a member of the family, I remain sceptical. Why? For three reasons at least. First, we are told the Accord with all its flaws is justified because Quebec is adhering to the Canadian Constitution. Is that so? To which Constitution? Not the 1982 Constitution. Rather, to a new one in which Quebec is not bound to submit fully to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, in which Quebec will have special powers and where Canada will become the head waiter serving the provinces when they meet each year to feast at the expense of the national interest.

Second, we are told that this adherence to the Constitution will permit the evolution of the Canadian Constitution. Is that so? What evolution? Without the ability to amend the Senate or the Supreme Court, to create new provinces or to change other national institutions unless there is unanimous approval by all provinces, how in all honesty can constitutional evolution be considered a possibility for Canada?

Third, the Fathers of this new Constitution have not explained to Canadians that the Quebec Government feels itself in no way bound to remain part of the family. It maintains the right to leave the federation at will. Listen to what Mr. Bourassa had to say on June 18, 1987, when the Constitutional Accord was adopted by the National Assembly, and I quote:

The Liberal Party recognizes the right of Quebec to freely express its will to

maintain the Canadian federal union or to end it.

Furthermore, he confirmed that this policy:

"is not changed or affected in any way by the adoption of the Meech Lake


So when Mr. Bourassa said that "Quebec is winning one of the greatest political victories of its history, a victory that is undeniably recognized by most objective observers as one of the greatest in two centuries", Madam Speaker, he was right. But he should have added that it was at the same time the greatest defeat for Canada.

Subtopic:   SCHEDULE
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September 10, 1987

Hon. Donald J. Johnston (Saint-Henri-Westmount):

Mr. Speaker, 1 listened with great interest to the comments of both of my colleagues. I must say that I and others in this House undoubtedly have been heartened and encouraged by the positive developments that one sees emerging from the Guatemala peace plan of August 7. However, I must say that I am not quite as sanguine as the spokesman for the Government with respect to the evolution of the plan as it is designed. I say that largely because of my concerns with the continuing policy of our good neighbour to the south, the United States. Only today Mr. Shultz has testified that the Government wishes to increase its funding to the Contras by $270 million over the forthcoming 18 month period, which is an escalation over the amount of $100 million, the timetable for which expires on September 30. In fact, as I read the press report as it came over the wire, it appeared that Mr. Shultz justifies this because of the timetable. The cease-fire does not take effect until November 7. Hence it is the argument of the U.S. administration that this would leave the Nicaraguan Sandinis-ta regime unconstrained by the threat of the rebel Contra forces during that period, playing into the hands of the Communists. I can only say that this is hardly the basis upon which we should be building a secure and lasting peace in Central America.

I will go back and talk a bit about the history of some of the issues in a moment, but I would like to emphasize to the Conservative Government, and I am sure my colleague, the Hon. Member for New Westminster-Coquitlam (Ms. Jewett), will agree with me, that one thing Canada can do

concretely is to exercise our supposed good offices in Washington to bring a stop to this increased funding to the extent possible. In that regard I am confident that the efforts of the Government will be supported by many if not an overwhelming majority of Americans as well as Congressmen.

I need not remind this House of the tremendous opposition which was expressed not only here but in the United States to the funding of the Contras in the first instance. Here, on the very eve of a major breakthrough, we are faced with a reaffirmation and an escalation of that policy which all of us in this House on both sides condemned in the first instance.

I commend the Government on any steps it may take to make Canadian expertise available for the purposes of verification. We know that Canada enjoys an international reputation in that regard, well earned in many corners of the Globe over many many, years, and I am happy that we have officials in Central America at the present time, but there is one major obstacle going far beyond the issue of verification, and that is, the current policy of the U.S. administration. It is with respect to that policy that Canada is in a unique position to exercise influence.

I can say to this House in a personal vein that I am gratified and have been gratified by the tremendous concern shown by my constituents and by Canadians across this land for the circumstances in Central America. I know that my colleague, the Hon. Member for Saint-Denis (Mr. Prud'homme) feels the same way. He has many constituents who continue to make representations to him saying Canada has a major role to play.

Apart from the human tragedy to which we must respond, the refugee issues, the suffering, the fact that a surrogate war is being conducted by untrained teenagers, the great human tragedy of the situation also must be placed in the context of a potential widespread armed confrontation in the western hemisphere; our own Vietnam. The situation in Central America hangs like sword of Damocles over the peace and security of the western hemisphere. It is a matter of the most urgent priority. Hence, the Contadora process which we have all supported seemed almost at one point in recent months to have ceased being a process altogether. There seemed to be so little movement in that regard. Now we have seen in the region itself five Presidents agreeing upon a plan, which is ambiguous in many respects and is perhaps somewhat obscure but basically contains very significant elements which could provide for a major breakthrough. These elements include a ceasefire within 90 days, the agreement from each nation not to supply any rebel group which would try to overthrow any existing Central American Government, no attacks to be launched from other Central American countries, reconciliation and amnesty for rebel forces and a process of democratization, internationally-supervised free elections at the end of each Government's present term of office.

September 10, 1987

How wonderful it would be if each of these constituent elements could be addressed by those countries in the region. The situation could become stable and there would be the long-term peace and security that the region so desperately requires. However, already we see that there has been a certain amount of equivocation on the part of Honduras. Again, people might suspect that that might be because of the U.S. policy in the region. Honduras might feel itself obligated and perhaps economically indebted to the United States and it has already raised some questions with respect to verification procedures, allegedly for fear of establishing that there are indeed bases located strategically within its frontiers.

That merely points to the great flaw in this plan which is that it requires more than the support of the region, it desperately requires that of the United States. The United States has said that it is supportive, but Mr. Shultz has said: "We are committed to working with its signatories," referring to the signatories to the Guatemalan peace plan, "to strengthen it, to deal with issues not covered by the agreement, to help gain broad support for its purposes and provisions, but," he said, "it is simply not in our national interest to leave the Sandinista regime unconstrained by credible resistance forces on the basis of a hope or a premise".

In conclusion, let me say that that glimmer of hope which we saw emerging in August must be fanned by goodwill. It must be supported by this Government and, as I have said, apart from the technical assistance and other specific steps we can take in that regard, I believe we must send a strong message to Washington.

Over the last several years, my criticism of the posture of the Government has been that while its policies and its rhetoric in the House against aid to Contras, urging the United States basically to withdraw that support and to help bring a peaceful resolution to the problems in Nicaragua have been supported by all of us and while we continue to provide foreign aid to the area, I do not think that our voice has been heard. I think there has been a reluctance to speak out and to deliver a message to our good friends in Washington as good neighbours and friends should. We should speak frankly and candidly to the Americans on this issue and we should support those Members of Congress and those areas of American public opinion with which we are very much in agreement.

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June 19, 1987

Hon. Donald J. Johnston (Saint-Henri-Westmount):

Mr. Speaker, I believe that the privileges of Members have been seriously compromised. As a tax practitioner for many years and as a Member of this House since 1978 I can say standing here in my place that we have been subjected to a budgetary process in all but name.

Going back to the time of James I we know the significance that is attached to budgetary measures which are the privilege of the House of Commons. One of those privileges is that we have a debate on a Budget. The question I raise, Your Honour, is this. Are we now in a position in the governing of this country where our Government is entitled to bootleg a budget in as a White Paper and remove the very significant privilege of a full six-day debate in the House?

In terms of Your Honour addressing this question of a violation of Members' privileges, I would like to add an additional point which I think is very significant. Drawing upon some of my own expertise, and I know of your own, Mr. Speaker, when I look at this paper, when I look at the Notice of Ways and Means, I see the changes in capital cost allowance and I see the imposition of sales tax. 1 see the changes that are taking place both under the regulations and through additional impositions of tax. I say that this has all the constituent elements of a budget. Not only does it have all the constituent elements of a budget legally, but the whole ambiance which we witnessed yesterday, the procedure with respect to a lock-up and the entire proceeding, has been that of a budget in all but name.

Mr. Speaker, I believe that the privileges of Hon. Members here in the House are very seriously compromised if we accept

June 19, 1987

Privilege-Mr. Guilbault (Saint-Jacques)

this procedure, if we accept that a Government might present a real Budget and say simply that it is a white paper.

I, for one, Mr. Speaker, find this procedure totally unacceptable, and I should like to add the comment that if you should concede here that we do have a Budget, then we have the right, and I emphasize this point, we have the right to debate this Budget for six days here in the House.

Subtopic:   PRIVILEGE
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June 12, 1987

Mr. Johnston:

Madam Speaker, I want to congratulate the Hon. Member for Davenport (Mr. Caccia) for being able to raise so many important questions in such a short period of time.

At the very outset he questioned the motion on the basis of the time frame within which the public hearings are to be held and report back, as I recall, by September 14. He, like many of us, feels that that time frame is inadequate.

Having had considerable experience in committee work over the years, could he suggest what might be an adequate time frame, so that we do not simply leave it open-ended, but perhaps discuss among ourselves what time frame would be appropriate? Should we wait until we see the representations that people wish to make on the basis of the fundamental principle that as many Canadians as possible should be heard?

I am glad the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. Mazankowski) is here to witness the concern of parliamentarians that this is too short a time frame. Again, I would urge the Deputy Prime Minister to support this subamendment which will ensure that people from coast to coast will have access to that committee, without having to travel across the country to Ottawa at their own expense.

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