Constitutional Conference, Briefing Paper, Regional Disparities – Constitutional Obligation (9 September 1970)

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Date: 1970-09-09
By: Secretariat of the Conference
Citation: Constitutional Conference, Briefing Paper, Regional Disparities – Constitutional Obligation, (9 September 1970).
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Second Working Session, Constitutional Conference

September, 1970


September 9, 1970.


A. Federal Objectives in the Discussion of this Subject

1. To demonstrate a concern for regional disparities
and a willingness to accept all reasonable constitutional
provisions which will facilitate their reduction.

2. To appear responsibe to views of the smaller
provinces such as Nova Scotia (and to a lesser extent
the other Atlantic provinces) and maintain their
interest in the review.

3. To avoid further (and repetitious) discussions
of regional disparities in the Constitutional Conference
for some time.

4. Thus to reaffirm the position with respect
to the statement of objectives in the preamble, to
try to get unanimous agreement on the need for adequate
federal (note B.C. and Alberta’s previous positions,
below) and provincial powers to combat disparities,
and to conclude the discussion at this time by getting
agreement in principle on putting in the body of the
constitution a non-enforceable obligation, on both
orders of government, to reduce regional disparities.
This would be essentially the adoption of the Nova
Scotia proposal of December, 1969. (The conclusions
reached might best be formalized in the statement of
conclusions issued at the end of the Working Session.)

5. To leave open until later the precise wording
of such an obligation.

6. To keep this subject off the agenda for some

B. Discussion Guide

(The Secretariat Report can be used as the basic
working document by the meeting.)

1. Review of previous conclusions of Conference
(described in quotations from December conclusions.
Secretariat Report on Regional Disparities, Secretariat
Briefing Book, Tab 8 at p. 1).

(a) Preamble to state objective re: regional
disparities – federal position – stated in
The Constitution and the People of Canada,
as an objective for confederation
“To promote national economic, social
and cultural development, and the general
welfare and equality of opportunity for
all Canadians in whatever region they
may live, including the opportunity for
gainful work, for just conditions of
employment, for an adequate standard of
living, for security, for education, and
for rest and leisure.”

Provincial positions – all agreed in June and
December, 1969, sessions.

(b) Adequate powers of both federal and provincial
governments –

Federal position – in favour, with
emphasis on federal powers re: equalization
of provincial revenues and thus provincial
public services, redistribution of personal
income, and regional economic development.

Provincial position – general agreement in
December (see Secretariat Report at p. 1)
except for B.C. and Alberta who at that
time took the position that if the federal
government had only a power to pay a guaranteed
annual income, this would remove individual
disparities and thus in time reduce other
forms of regional disparities.


– if B.C. and Alberta aren’t confronted directly
on their earlier position they might accept
the general principle of “appropriate” or
“adequate” powers for both levels of government
and leave until later the definition of those

– on the substance of their argument, provinces
would at most collect through taxes no more
than 10-20% of increased payments to persons
under a guaranteed annual income plan. This
probably would not be enough to replace
equalization unless the guaranteed income
was impossibly high. (See The Taxing Powers
and the Constitution of Canada, p. 12).

2. Inclusion in the constitution of an obligation to
reduce disparities. (Secretariat Report, conclusions
pp. 3, 4)

Federal Position – Could agree now in
principle on inclusion of a statement
of obligation, not judicially enforceable,
as the legal effect would not be essentially
different from having a statement of
objectives in the preamble. Would want
to reserve our position on inclusion of
non-enforceable obligations on other

Provincial Position – Probably will agree
to this. Premier Smith has indicated
privately this would satisfy him. Some
premiers not directly concerned will
probably agree in order to drop this
subject for a time.

C. Background

As outlined in Secretariat Report

1. December Conference conclusions – p. 1.

2. C.C.O. conclusions on legal implications – p. 3.

3. Definition of Regional Disparities – pp. 3-4.
(There has been some difference of attitude here
on whether equalization payments reduce regional
disparities. Federal officials argue that they
can – in that they free other provincial funds
for developing infrastructure, etc. which strengthens
the local economy. Some Maritime officials stress
that other measures for regional development are
the essential means of reducing disaprities.)

4. General conclusions – p. 4.

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