‘ELECTED MUST DECIDE PEOPLE’

E. KAYE FULTON July 1 1991

‘ELECTED MUST DECIDE PEOPLE’

E. KAYE FULTON July 1 1991

‘ELECTED MUST DECIDE PEOPLE’

While the Maclean ’s forum was producing its vision of a Canada in which politicians would be more responsive to their constituents, a 17-member parliamentary committee was putting the finishing touches on a report with a somewhat different slant. During three months of hearings last winter and into the spring, the special committee in search of a new constitutional amending formula heard witness after witness call for the public’s involvement in the process of rewriting the Constitution. In all, 181 submissions addressed the question of a constituent assembly—and 158 of those spoke in favor of the concept.

But when the committee's co-chairmen, Alberta Conservative MP James Edwards and Tory Senator Gérald Beaudoin, presented their report on June 20, they rejected that approach. Their recommendation: resurrect a regionally based constitutional amending

formula that was part of a reform package that failed 20 years ago—and hand the task of moulding and implementing it to politicians. “We know there are a great many criticisms of the so-called system,” said Edwards. “But in the final analysis, it is elected people who must make the decisions about constitutional change.”

With those words, Edwards rejected the widely popular idea of convening a special assembly of Canadians to deal with the country’s constitutional problems. Clearly, it was not a statement that many Canadians—including participants in the Maclean’s forum— wanted to hear. Indeed, the two New Democrats on the committee issued a minority statement calling for a constituent assembly to be convened.

The assembly concept also fared poorly at the 12-member Citizens’ Forum on Canada’s Future, the government-appointed commission led by Keith Spicer. Maclean ’shas learned that the commission initially intended to recommend a constituent assembly and other mechanisms for direct public participation in the constitutional process. But all such references, commission sources said, were watered

down, or deleted entirely, before the scheduled release of the final Spicer report on June 27.

The Beaudoin-Edwards committee revived an amendment process initially drafted at a 1971 conference in Victoria: most constitutional changes would require the approval of Quebec, Ontario, two or more Atlantic provinces, and at least two western provinces containing at least 50 per cent of that region’s population. Fundamental changes now require unanimity; others can be made with the support of at least seven provinces with 50 per cent of the population.

The parliamentary committee calls for public hearings throughout the constitutional process, recommends greater involvement of native representatives (as does Spicer), and proposes a national referendum if negotiations become deadlocked. But in Canada’s current constitutional climate, such measures may no longer be enough.

E. KAYE FULTON

with

GLEN ALLEN

in Ottawa