Canada

The ‘war’ has been suspended until further notice

IAN URQUHART December 12 1977
Canada

The ‘war’ has been suspended until further notice

IAN URQUHART December 12 1977

The ‘war’ has been suspended until further notice

Canada

The symbolism was unmistakable as Pierre Trudeau and René Lévesque emerged, together, from their four-hour meeting in Quebec City early this month. They exchanged smiles and a handshake, then Lévesque handed a microphone to Trudeau. “In spite of our idealogical differences,” the Prime Minister intoned, “we have decided to work together in the economic field.”

The successful conclusion to the longawaited meeting underscored the new mood of cooperation between Ottawa and Quebec, Trudeau and Lévesque. The two men are opposites in many ways, Trudeau rational and cerebral, Lévesque spontaneous and emotional. They don’t particularly like each other, a feeling that dates back to their first inauspicious meeting as journalists in Montreal in the 1950s (see Interview, page 4). They are, of course, in complete disagreement over the future of the country. But while that fractious issue is being decided, they seem determined now to work together on the economy and other immediate concerns.

Their two governments continue to clash publicly, particularly in the courts, where they split two decisions at the end of last month—Quebec beat back Ottawa’s attempt to curb its provincial inquiry into the RCMP, but Ottawa won the fight for control of cable TV. Behind the scenes, however, there are growing signs of coop-

eration. Federal Finance Minister Jean Chrétien and his Quebec counterpart, Jacques Parizeau, have agreed to bury the hatchet and concentrate on Quebec’s serious economic problems. Immigration officials from both governments are working out details of an agreement on control of the flow of immigrants to Quebec. After holding out for months, Quebec has agreed to enter the federal home insulation plan following Ottawa’s decision to drop its preconditions. There is even the

possibility of a deal over cable TV . As for the Constitution, “We agreed to disagree and that’s it,” said Lévesque.

The Trudeau-Lévesque encounter highlighted what might well have been called National Unity Month as Canada survived the first anniversary of the separatist victory in Quebec. Trudeau toured the country to talk to provincial premiers; federalist groups within Quebec began to coalesce (see box); the Pépin-Robarts task force started its road show (see page 22); and new pro-unity groups (more than 60 at last count) dappled the land like Sally Ann bands before Christmas.

In Ottawa, the various new bureaucrats spawned by the unity crisis were spewing out ideas, though many seemed at best inconsequential. For instance: a $250,000 portable “unity exhibit,” replete with puppets and slides, to tour shopping centres and show Canadians “the vastness and beauty of our country.” One bureaucrat involved in the unity exercise charitably described Ottawa’s approach as one of “creative inertia.”

Presumably disturbed by lack of initiative in Ottawa, the 21,000-member Canadian Bar Association set up its own committee to draft a new constitution because, said its president Jacques Viau, “the future

of Canada is too serious to leave only to the politicians.” But Trudeau does not plan to wait for the lawyers. His relative inactivity to date is explained, says one cabinet minister, by his experience with judo: “You wait for your opponent to attack and overextend himself before you counterattack.” The time to counterattack has apparently arrived, if, indeed, it has not already passed. Trudeau must counter charges, from the opposition in Ottawa as well as the Parti Québécois, that he is a “rigid” federalist who is unprepared to accept any change in the status quo. Despite the views of some observers that Lévesque is ready to make a deal, Trudeau continues to warn against hopes of any arrangement with the Quebec premier that would keep the province in Confederation. Asserts Trudeau: “There's no amount of tinkering or of major changes which will suddenly make Mr. Lévesque cease being a separatist.” At the same time, however, Trudeau says he will consider “the whole gamut” of constitutional change—short of separation.

Trudeau’s first step toward change has been to talk privately to the premiers in their own capitals. While the talks have actually centred on the economic situation (see page 64). Trudeau has also outlined his proposals for a new constitution, and he sought the premiers’ views. The meetings were downplayed by the daily press, jaded with the Constitution after chronicling the succession of futile efforts to change-it—failures that date back a decade to when Trudeau was justice minister and set out on a similar tour of provincial capitals. But this time, his aides say, he is determined to succeed.

However, there will probably not be a federal-provincial conference on the Constitution, as was originally planned by Ottawa last summer. Trudeau is apparently convinced that no matter what package of changes he might present to such a conference, at least one province (Quebec) and maybe more would object, as happened

following the 1971 Victoria conference. So Trudeau will present a package of constitutional proposals to parliament early in the new year. Its debate will likely be followed by an election or referendum or both. Legislation giving Ottawa the power to hold a national referendum will also be presented to parliament early in the new year.

The constitutional package is being drawn up by Donald Thorson, Trudeau’s constitutional adviser, and Gordon Robertson. the cabinet secretary for federalprovincial relations. Since both men were involved in designing the abortive Victoria conference, the new menu is likely to resemble the old: Senate reform, provincial input into Supreme Court appointments, language rights, and a bill of rights. Nothing too radical. Some premiers may be unhappy with the package, but Trudeau can then move on to the voters themselves.

The premiers plan their own meeting in February and may move to head off Trudeau, but they could find it difficult to act in unison. One of the purposes of Trudeau’s tour of the provincial capitals was to enlist the support of some premiers who are impatient for constitutional change—particularly Ontario’s William Davis. In a speech last month to the PépinRobarts task force, Davis complained that federal-provincial squabbling in the past has meant that “we have been frozen into inaction,” and he declared: “It is time to have a new constitution.” At the same time, however, he warned Trudeau: “Don’t do it alone.”

IAN URQUHART