Trudeau’s power punch


Trudeau’s power punch


Trudeau’s power punch


The head table constituted a formidable display of earthly and spiritual powers. In the centre sat the expansive guest of honor, Toronto’s Emmett Cardinal Carter, being feted for his 50 years in the Roman Catholic priesthood at a glittering $200-a-plate dinner in Toronto last week. Among the guests were an all-star political trio—Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, Liberal Leader John Turner and former prime minister Pierre Trudeau. The three men exchanged smiles and ritual handshakes, then dined on beef Wellington and broccoli. But a subdued Trudeau did not tell Mulroney or Turner that, even as he toasted the prelate as a “great churchman,” presses in Toronto and Montreal were printing his vitriolic denunciation of the Meech Lake constitutional accord and of the politicians who fashioned it. Wrote Trudeau: “It would be difficult to imagine a more total bungle.” Trudeau’s withering assault—published on May 27 in Montreal’s La Presse and The Toronto Star—was the first break in his self-imposed political silence since his retirement in June, 1984. And in one swift stroke, it changed the profile and the nature of the constitutional debate. The former prime minister’s passionate opposition provided a sharp contrast to Turner’s lukewarm acceptance in principle of the April 30 tentative agreement to bring Quebec into the Constitution. The disagreement also deepened divisions within the Liberal party over the accord and over Turner’s leadership (page 12). As one Ontario Liberal told Maclean’s: “Trudeau’s effect on the party will be incredibly divisive. There are cliques everywhere—and battles everywhere—across the country.”

Stung by Trudeau’s acid tone, Mulroney and all 10 premiers reaffirmed their determination to finalize the wording of the accord at a meeting in Ottawa this week. That may be a hard task. At week’s end, federal and provincial negotiators meeting to draft a final text for presentation to the first ministers had failed to reach agreement on the wording. Said senior federal negotiator Norman Spector: “Some difficult areas remain.”

If the Prime Minister and the premiers agree on a text, Parliament and all 10 provincial legislatures will try to approve the accord before October. Senior federal Conservatives insisted that Trudeau had helped Mulroney— and his timetable. According to a senior Tory who supports the accord: “Trudeau can do nothing but good: he

was far too confrontational, and confrontation is a thing of the past.” Added another senior Tory who expressed the hope that Trudeau would derail the accord: “By his tone, he has destroyed the issue and made himself the issue.”

But Trudeau’s passionate discourse, coupled with his continuing campaign against the accord on radio and television, also focused belated attention on the text of the tentative agreement. After the harrowing and divisive constitutional debates of the early 1980s, many Canadians seemed to simply stop paying attention to constitutional disputes. But Trudeau appeared to spur efforts to force a delay in imple-

menting the accord and allow time to conduct a detailed examination of its impact. Groups ranging from the National Action Committee on the Status of Women to a coalition of leading historians and authors urged politicians to postpone final agreement. Stephen Scott, a constitutional law professor at Montreal’s McGill University, told Maclean's: “There has been no effective debate of this massive transformation of Canada. The whole process is disastrous and scandalous. I ask myself: What kind of responsible government is this? What lunacy has taken over?” Trudeau’s denunciation of the agreement ranged from a devastating dismissal of its individual clauses to sharp personal attacks on the politicians who framed it. The former prime minister concentrated his attack on a clause that designates Quebec as

designates Quebec as a “distinct society”—and which asserts that the role of the Quebec government and legislature is “to preserve and promote” that identity. That proposal, Trudeau said, is an invitation to promote the primacy of French in Quebec’s economic, social and linguistic policies. Said Trudeau: “Those Canadians who fought for a single Canada, bilingual and multicultural, can say goodbye to their dream.” Trudeau also assailed the legal implications of other clauses. Proposals to give the provinces increased control over immigration would force Canada “to foot the bill for its own balkanization,” he declared. Likewise, provisions that would require Ottawa to make appointments to the Supreme Court and the Senate from provincial lists would give the provinces “an absolute right of veto over Parliament since the Senate will eventually be composed of persons who owe their appointments to the provinces.” He also condemned a proposal to allow provinces to opt out of national shared-cost programs and receive federal compensation if they undertook programs “compatible with national objectives.”

I “You can have the old style... or you can have genuine co-operative federalism.”


Declared Trudeau:

“That will enable the provinces to finish off the balkanization of languages and cultures with the balkanization of social services.”

He noted that Mulroney had secured no concessions from the provinces in return for ceding some federal powers. In scornful language, he dismissed Mulroney as a “weakling” and Quebec nationalists as “snivellers.” “Provincialist politicians,” he added, “don’t have the stature or the vision to dominate the Canadian stage so they need a Quebec ghetto as their lair.”

And he charged that Mulroney and the premiers signed the accord “because they all saw in it some political advantage.”

The repercussions were enormous. Conservatives promptly seized on the tone of Trudeau’s remarks, deftly sidestepping their substance. Mulroney reminded Canadians about Tru-

deau’s fierce battles with the provinces throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s in his successful campaign to bring the Constitution home from the United Kingdom with a Charter of Rights and Freedoms and an amending formula. Calling Trudeau’s campaign a “low-level comedy,” the Prime Minister declared, “You can have the old style of warring federalism or you can have genuine co-operative federalism on which we are trying to build a new country.”

The 10 premiers defended the accord—and many of them attacked Trudeau. The four western premiers, attending their annual meeting in Humboldt, Sask., expressed their “collective satisfaction” with the agreement. Liberal Premier Joe Ghiz of Prince Edward Island said that he “profoundly disagreed” with Trudeau. Newfoundland’s Brian Peckford added that Trudeau “had his chance and he botched it.” And Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa, a target of Trudeau’s scorn, protested that “the country is not weakened—it is more united.”

In the face of that criticism, Tru-

deau stood firm. He told the CBC Radio program Morningside that he spoke up because no one else was waging an effective war against the accord. Added the former prime minister and law professor: “I was hoping that somebody, somewhere—either a movement of people or a group of politicians— would be sounding the alarm.” And he had used strong language against the architects of the Meech Lake agreement, he said, because “I meant them to be offended—I think they are doing something basically wrong.”

Trudeau was briefed in Montreal a few days after the April 30 accord by Spector, secretary to the cabinet for federal-provincial relations. According to one federal official, Trudeau “asked some questions, but didn’t offer any comments.” In the next three weeks Trudeau worked on his text, showing draft copies to several longtime friends, including former Liberal cabinet minister Gérard Pelletier. In the wake of their suggestions, Trudeau made major revisions. He wrote in French, then a junior partner at his Montreal law firm of Heenan Blaikie translated it into English.

Montreal Liberal MP Donald Johnston, who resigned from the Liberal shadow cabinet three weeks ago to protest the accord, said that Trudeau was angry because he once believed that Mulroney shared his vision of the country. “I think he feels completely betrayed,” Johnston, a longtime Trudeau friend, said in an interview. “He devoted his entire public life to the unity of the country, and now he is told that One Canada is a dated idea.”

As the controversy grew, the Liberals launched a determined effort to reconcile their disparate positions. Although Turner has supported the accord in principle, senior Liberals said that he will likely demand changes in the wording of key clauses—if the premiers and Mulroney achieve agreement at this week’s meeting. But that shift might offend French-speaking Quebec Liberals who support the accord. Former Quebec Liberal MP Pierre Deniger, for one, said that Ottawa already consults the provinces over the appointment of Supreme Court justices.

Trudeau’s intervention also aroused broader calls for a delay in Ottawa’s constitutional timetable. The National Action Committee on the Status of Women expressed concern that the accord could prevent the introduction of expanded federal social services, such as a national day care program. Meanwhile, a coalition of prominent Canadians, including Toronto lawyer Edward Greenspan, author Hugh MacLennan and historian Desmond Morton, pleaded for a full public debate before implementation. In a statement, the coalition declared: “It is a disservice to Canadians to proceed with new constitutional provisions [when] the terms have been largely unexplained and unexplored.” It was a message that grew louder as Canada’s leaders edged closer to a deal.






in Ottawa,


in Montreal and


in Humboldt


■ “Those who fought for a single Canada...can say goodbye to their dream."