Editorial

No more gabfests-Trudeau will have to write it himself

Peter C. Newman September 22 1980
Editorial

No more gabfests-Trudeau will have to write it himself

Peter C. Newman September 22 1980

No more gabfests-Trudeau will have to write it himself

Peter C. Newman

Editorial

There was nothing ambiguous about the failure of last week’s constitutional conference. For six days the 11 men who head this country’s governments had searched for a formula that might allow Canada to alter and domesticate its constitution. By the end of that exercise (which followed a summer of intensive preparations) the extent of their agreement was scarcely visible. Instead of allowing themselves to become statesmen, the participating politicians opted for their parish pumps. In fact, they managed the almost incredible feat of moving backward nearly a full decade, so that after six days of jaw-boning they were actually further away from agreement than they had been at the Victoria Conference of 1971.

Although he must carry his share of the blame, Pierre Trudeau is now left with little choice. To do nothing, to surrender himself to the status quo position being advocated by most provincial premiers, would amount to a betrayal of the 2.1 million Quebeckers who voted “non"in last May’s referendum. Only by bringing home the British North America Act and amending it in line with contemporary realities can Trudeau live up to the pledge he gave on May 14.

Probably the strangest aspect of last week’s abortive conference was the reticence of its participants

(except for Trudeau and Ontario’s Bill Davis) to count themselves as Canadians. All week they pumped up their rhetoric by voicing derisive debating points against the dark and scheming force represented by Canada’s federal administration, all but forgetting the country to which they owe their prime allegiance. (This tendency reached its most comic moment when Angus MacLean of Prince Edward Island called himself “an Islander first, a Maritimer second, and a Canadian third.”)

Though patriation has successfully evaded agreement since Justice Minister Ernest Lapointe first brought it up at a Dominion-provincial conference in 1927, drafting a new constitution isn’t that unique an achievement. More than a hundred countries have rewritten theirs since the Second World War. But for Canada it’s very much more than an academic exercise. On the few occasions when this country has experienced great internal emergencies—such as the searing Depression of the 1930s or the military mobilization of the ’40s—they have nearly all been national problems requiring national solutions. The current energy crisis could well balloon to similar proportions.

By their unwillingness to compromise regional differences, the provincial premiers have forced Ottawa to act on its own. The author of Canada’s new constitution will be Pierre Elliott Trudeau.