For all the furore it caused in the Commons, the decision to impose closure on the constitution debate came easily. Government House leader Yvon Pinard walked into the Liberals’ regular Wednesday caucus last week and, in barely 15 minutes, got the message from MPs: they were tired of the debate after three weeks—and the public wanted action. After a quick word with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, Pinard made his move. Enforced by the Grit majority, Standing Order 33 would close the debate at 1 a.m. Friday. In the name-calling and fist-waving that ensued, the Conservatives raised a stink— the memorably foul smell of the 1956 pipeline debate which ended in closure and led to John Diefenbaker’s first victory the next year. Tory leader Joe Clark took to calling this another “C.D. Howe closure.” For a constitutional measure that will profoundly change the shape and powers of government in this country, three weeks of debate seemed hardly excessive. But Trudeau argued that much of that time was consumed in procedural diversions, that serious analysis could only happen in the planned Commons-Senate committee and that MPs will again debate the issues when the committee reports back by Dec. 9. Convinced that public opinion is still on his side, Trudeau refused to rule out another closure motion when debate on that committee report begins. The committee can’t even form, however, until approved by the sometimes cranky Senate, where debate was to start this week.
Left in some embarrassment by Pinard’s lightning strike were the New Democrats. Only the day before, after a “Dear Mr. Broadbent” letter, Trudeau had secured NDP support for his constitutional program by acceding to Broadbent’s conditions: inclusion of provincial powers to control and tax nonrenewable resources and to share Ottawa’s powers over interprovincial trade. Sources on all sides declared Broadbent had no part in the closure that followed, and the NDP voted against it. Whether or not the bargain helped the Grits brave closure, it drew jibes from Tories. John Crosbie snorted that the PM and Broadbent “are heart to heart, brain to brain, toe to toe and nose to nose, and we know where the leader of the New Democratic Party’s nose is.” More elegantly, Allan McKinnon likened Broadbent’s liaison with Trudeau to Lauren
Bacall’s enticing screen offer to Humphrey Bogart: “If you want anything, just whistle.”
Invective of another kind burst from, of all places, New York, when New Brunswick Premier Richard Hatfield chose during a visit to lambast fellowTory and Ontario Premier William Davis. Hatfield accused Davis of blocking constitutional change by refusing to allow French-language rights
to be guaranteed in the province’s courts and civil service. “The antiFrench feeling is in Ontario,” he said. “That has to be exposed.” On the other hand, Davis has long voiced the principle, included in the Trudeau package, of assuring minority-language schooling where numbers warrant. It was an odd spat between two premiers who, in fact, are on the same side with Trudeau in the constitution battle.
On the other side of the lines, the anti-Trudeau provinces were digging in. Newfoundland Premier Brian Peckford (see cover story, page 30) warned his province that Ottawa was grabbing the power to hive off Labrador from Newfoundland. And Quebec’s intergovernmental affairs minister, Claude Morin, voiced confidence that the British Parliament will reject Trudeau’s resolution when it arrives from Ottawa. He said Westminster is “flabbergasted” at the scope of what it had expected to be a mere patriation of the British North America Act. For the six provinces planning court action against the Trudeau plan, British obstruction might be the last hope. Closure raises the chance that the whole package will be off to London before any judge gets his hands on it.
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