PETER LOUGHEED ANSWERS PIERRE TRUDEAU
THE FORMER ALBERTA PREMIER SAYS THAT QUEBEC MUST BE BROUGHT BACK INTO THE FOLD
Peter Lougheed bears both the scars and epaulets of Canada’s constitutional wars. As premier of Alberta from 1971 to 1985, Lougheed was a strong defender of provincial powers. He was a leader among those premiers who resisted then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s crusade for a strong central government. But in the hectic negotiations leading up to the 1982 patriation of the Constitution, Lougheed also showed a willingness to compromise— and was a signatory to that agreement.
Lougheed, 64, now practises law in his native Calgary and serves as a director of several blue-chip Canadian companies. But he remains involved with public policy. He was a vocal advocate for the 1988 Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and argued in favor of the Meech Lake accord. In an essay, written for Maclean’s, Lougheed contends that the failure to win Quebec’s approval of the 1982 patriation left unfinished constitutional business, which should be settled by approving the Charlottetown accord. His report:
We stand at a threshold of history. And the future is ours to determine. The decision that each Canadian voter makes in the loneliness of the polling booth on Oct. 26 will either give our children the chance to build a better country in which to thrive, or snatch from them many of the opportunities that their parents were privileged to enjoy.
The proposed constitutional changes, contained in the August 28, 1992, consensus report—unanimously agreed to by the Prime Minister and all 10 premiers and native leaders at Charlottetown— should be supported by Canadians in all provinces.
There are five reasons to vote Yes—and two to not vote No.
For one thing, the provisions of the Charlottetown accord will modernize the way our country functions by reducing duplication and overlap in programs provided by our federal and provincial governments. My experience as a premier for 14 years was that when two governments intervened in the same field there was often confusion, conflicting objectives and sometimes outright waste. I was delighted to see the first ministers transfer exclusive jurisdiction to the provinces in a number of important areas, such as housing, tourism, recreation and municipal and urban affairs, where provinces should be more responsive to the local needs of the people. Also, each province in Canada owns its natural resources and it will be advantageous for the provinces to have exclusive jurisdiction in forestry and mining.
The shift in powers will result in some services being provided by the provinces, which are closer to the people and, hence, are more responsive. And they reflect the financial limitations of governments by restraining the capacity of the federal government to spend. The
constraints on the federal spending power should help to curb public expenditure and over time help to reduce our government deficits. Canadians can no longer allow their governments to spend beyond their means. These provisions, however, do not weaken our valued social programs such as medicare.
The key shift in powers from Ottawa will be the exclusive provincial jurisdiction for labor-market development and training. There are two major reasons for that. The provinces control education, including postsecondary education, and we must do better as a country to tie education and training closer together. Each province has different prospects for jobs and skills required. It will, in my view, work much better if government training programs are handled by only one government, as an extension to education. Canadians have to develop much better methods of specifically matching training to opportunities, and the provinces are clearly better equipped to do this.
Taken as a whole, these power shifts will make for better government, yet the central government has retained the power it needs to manage a modem economy in a modem, competitive world. For this reason alone, I would vote Yes on Oct. 26.
THE MYTH OF BLACKMAIL
A second compelling argument for voting Yes is to redress the wrong imposed by Pierre Tmdeau when he insisted on patriating our Constitution at a time when we had a separatist [Parti Québécois] government. As one would expect, the Quebec government of the day refused to be a party to the Constitution Act of 1982. As the premier of Alberta at the time, I said that our province was
pleased with an amending formula that protected our natural resources, but very disappointed that we could not get Premier René Lévesque’s signature. It is a reality that we have a Constitution that is not legitimate in a constitutional sense—over 25 per cent of our citizens have not had their duly elected provincial government agree to the provisions.
It is essential to cure this serious defect. In 1992, we are fortunate in having a federalist government in Quebec, which is prepared to sign the Constitution of Canada and put this inward issue behind us. Contrary to the view of some, Canadians are not devoting their attention to this matter in response to “blackmail” threats from a minority separatist group in Quebec, but to legitimize our Constitution.
As a westerner, I am pleased that the provisions in the Charlottetown agreement respond to the desire of Quebec to be a full partner in Confederation. Yes, there are many important gains for Quebec-
It is wrong to assess the Charlottetown proposals on the basis that if one region ‘wins,’ so to speak, another ‘loses’
ers, and that is as it should be. Their provincial government represents one of the founding nations of Canada, as we have reflected in our acceptance of official bilingualism. Quebec is clearly a distinct society, which includes a French-speaking majority, a clearly unique culture, and a civil-law tradition. And it is their wish that the Constitution recognize that the role of the legislature and the government of Quebec is to preserve and promote such a distinct society.
I support these goals. It is wrong for Canadians to assess the Charlottetown proposals on the basis that if one region “wins,” so to speak, another “loses.” If Quebecers win their distinct-society request, there is no way that I, living in Calgary, “lose.” I am satisfied that the Supreme Court of Canada will, over the years, interpret these provisions fairly and assure that the minorities within Quebec do not suffer discrimination.
As an outsider, I observe in these proposals many of the wishes of Quebecers that have been expressed to me, both in my public and private life, over the years. When I was premier there were many issues where the governments of Quebec and Alberta became very effective allies. As a result we tried very hard to understand and appreciate the aspirations of the people of Quebec. In the recent negotiations, I know my successor Premier Donald Getty and his intergovernmental affairs minister, James Horsman, did the same.
So, when I review the various provisions responding to Quebec, I am positive to them and do not see them as threatening to the West, or to the nation as a whole. Because Quebecers view themselves as a minority in an English-speaking North America, it is natural for them to desire that more of their destiny be determined by their provincial government in Quebec City, and it is right that the Charlottetown consensus does this in a number of ways.
It is also, in my view, fair for them to have a guarantee of 25-per-cent representation in the House of Commons. Quebec has historically had more than 25 per cent of the population in Canada. It is also appropriate that, in the new Senate, legislation that materially affects the French language or culture would require the support of a majority of the francophone senators. For the same reason, I also support the part of the agreement that says that the nine-member Supreme Court be composed of three judges from the Quebec bar, trained in Quebec’s civil code.
I hope that Quebecers will vote Yes in the referendum. None of the provisions are harmful or disadvantageous to me as a westerner. I would be delighted for Quebec to join us in a united Canada by legitimizing our Constitution.
A CHAMBER WITH FORCE
The third reason for a Yes vote is that the proposals respond very significantly to the long-standing conviction of most western Canadians that their concerns are not properly reflected in the Parliament of Canada. This is done through the new Senate.
It will truly be a new Senate, because its members will be elected—and that changes everything. It also reflects the position I took in opposing, over 20 years ago, Trudeau’s view that we are a nation of regions, with the provinces of Ontario and Quebec as first-class provinces and the other eight as second-class provinces. This was Trudeau’s vision as shown by his Victoria amending formula. He lost in 1981 to the Alberta amending formula, which constitutionalized the principle of equality of provinces. My successor, Premier Getty, fought hard for this principle in the Charlottetown accord—and won. The new Senate will be composed of six senators from each
province—hence guaranteeing the equality of all 10 provinces.
Will the new Senate be effective? In my opinion, very much so. Why? Because the new senators, having the authority of having been elected, will change the way that Ottawa works. The smaller number of senators, representing larger constituencies, will give individual senators a greater influence than individual members of Parliament. The senators will become strong, independent representatives from their province, and will not be subject to party pressure because they can never aspire to become cabinet ministers.
The powers of senators would be substantial. They could stop dead in its tracks a proposal for a new National Energy Program, which siphoned $60 billion out of the western economy in the 1980s.
The senators can refuse to ratify John Crow for another sevenyear term as governor of the Bank of Canada. And they can reject numerous key prime ministerial appointments to major government boards and agencies. As [Constitutional Affairs Minister] Joe Clark has noted,
“The four western provinces, plus the two territories and only one Atlantic province, could force the House of Commons to return a bill it had passed.”
The joint sittings will change the legislative process in Ottawa because the senators, with their substantial influence and minimal party-caucus pressure, should force amendments to legislation that do not reflect western or Atlantic points of view. Watch for MPs wanting to become senators. Why? That’s where the action will be. Also, anticipate lively Senate hearings on most major issues. These will be the national media focal point, shifting from Question Period in the House of Commons to the Senate hearing rooms. I am almost excited enough to run as a senator—almost!
DEALING WITH NATIVE DEMANDS
The fourth reason for a Yes vote is that I have always felt that Canadians have failed to respond positively to the plight of our aboriginal people. Due to a series of circumstances, the aboriginal people have succeeded (I am sure far beyond their expectations) in convincing the 11 first ministers to make them a new order of government in Canada. Voting Yes will be my way of supporting the opportunity to start to make right and fair our treatment of our aboriginal first peoples.
I share the concern of many that it will be difficult to negotiate the numerous agreements, primarily because of the diversity of views and interests of the aboriginal people across this vast land. It is a leap of faith, but—partly because of my own aboriginal ancestors, partly because of my disappointments in government—I am prepared to make it. When I cast my Yes vote, I know it is a key step in starting to make right what has been an injustice in Canada.
A PRESSING NEED FOR JOBS
The fifth reason for my Yes vote is that I am very concerned about jobs for young Canadians. The world economy is changing and many Canadian jobs are now quite insecure. Other countries are adjusting to new technologies, new methods of distribution, new training practices, new cost-control measures and new information communications. Many of Canada’s industries could become noncompetitive unless we also make such changes. If we do not change soon, we will lose markets, and companies will then be forced to cut many Canadian jobs.
Canadians and their governments must concentrate quickly on developing new attitudes, new approaches and new skills. Otherwise, our already high unemployment rates, youth-and-overall, will get even worse. We have to get this constitutional agenda off the table now, and
get on with the task of securing jobs for our young generation. My experience in 1980 and 1981 as premier was that I spent most of these years on the Constitution. I was forced to divert my attention and leadership away from our efforts to improve the education curriculum and control health costs. For the past few years, this has also been the situation faced by our current political leaders.
I was saddened recently at a social event when a woman said to me, “Peter, unless we smarten up, our children will not have as good a life as ours.” I reluctantly had to agree with her. Working with the Japanese and others, I see attitudinal changes that we have to make—and soon—if we
are to compete. If we do not get on with it, my children’s generation—my four kids—will face much more job-loss risk than did my generation.
So, there are many positive reasons for voting Yes.
THE NO ARGUMENT
In a democracy, I respect those who hold different views, although, for either of two often-cited reasons, I hope that few Canadians will vote No. The first is the view that, even if we all vote Yes, constitutional negotiations will not be over—that Quebec will want more and more— and that the turmoil will never end. It is true that there will always be elements in Quebec that will try to keep the constitutional issue on the national agenda’s front burner. But they will not succeed.
I perceive at least a dozen years when the Constitution will be on the back burner once Quebec and the other provinces ratify the Charlottetown agreement in the national referendum. Why? Again, because the reason it is on the front burner of the national agenda is because we have a Constitution that is not legitimate, not because of the threats of Quebec’s separatists. And we now have a Quebec federalist government striving for public support to be a full partner in Canada and a signatory to our Constitution. Once this is done, Canadians everywhere, including those in Quebec, will be determined to move on to other issues, particularly the creation of new and secure jobs.
A second frequently raised reason for a No vote is that it would be relatively risk-free. Proponents of that view argue that we can return once again to the bargaining table to modify the unanimous agreement, or put a moratorium on constitutional discussions for a number of years—a return to the status quo. This is naïve. It will never be the same again; emotion will not ebb quickly and the country will be in considerable disarray. First ministers will not have their supporters’ backing for placing priority on constitutional negotiations. We will not have the collective will to work together to meet our economic challenges.
Let us have the generosity of spirit towards our fellow Canadians residing in different parts of Canada, let us have the vision and wisdom to create a future that will be the envy of the world. That is only asking that we restore the spirit that created Canada in the first place—and upon which we built our nation. □