Federal-Provincial Conference of First Ministers on the Constitution, Opening Statement by Honourable Peter Lougheed, Premier of Alberta (2-5 November 1981)


Document Information

Date: 1981-11-02
By: Peter Lougheed
Citation: First Ministers’ Conference on the Constitution, Opening Statement by Honourable Peter Lougheed, Premier of Alberta, Doc 800-15/009 (Ottawa: 2-5 November 1981).
Other formats: Click here to view the original document (PDF).


DOCUMENT: 800-15/009
FEDERAL-PROVINCIAL CONFERENCE
OF
FIRST MINISTERS ON THE CONSTITUTION
Opening Statement by
Honourable Peter Lougheed
Premier of Alberta
Alberta
Ottawa
November 1981

OPENING STATEMENT BY HONOUBABLE PETER LOUGHEED
PREMIER OF ALBERTA
TO THE FIRST MINISTERS’ CONFERENCE ON THE CONSTITUTION
NOVEMBER 2, 1981
MR. CHAIRMAN, WE ARE AT A CROSSROADS OF CANADIAN CONFEDERATION.
THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT CAN PRESS ON AND CHANGE OUR CONSTITUTION
WITHOUT THE AGREEMENT OF THE PROVINCES WITH ALL THE DIVISION
AND ANTAGONISM THAT WILL RESULT OVER MANY YEARS, OR IT CAN
SINCERELY SIT DOWN AND TRY AND WORK OUT OUR DIFFERENCES WITHOUT
THREATS BUT IN AN ATMOSPHERE OF NEGOTIATION. I SHARE THE HOPE
WITH MOST CANADIANS THAT THIS ISSUE CAN BE RESOLVED BY NEGOTIATION
IN A MANNER CONSISTENT WITH OUR NATION’S TRADITIONS AND PRINCIPLES
ALL CANADIANS SHARE THIS HOPE FOR WE HAVE FAR MORE PRESSING
ISSUES FACING US AS GOVERNMENTS THAN THE CONSTITUTION. A
THE PAST YEAR HAS BEEN A CRITICAL AND CONTROVERSIAL ONE IN
FEDERAL-PROVINCIAL RELATIONS. TWO MAIN SUBJECTS HAVE BEEN AT
THE CENTER OF THE CONTROVERSY — ENERGY RESOURCES AND THE
CONSTITUTION.

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ON BOTH MATTERS THE FEDERAL.GOVERNMENT ACTED UWILATERALLY.
IN THE CASE OF ENERGY, DESPITE FEDERAL UNILATERAL ACTION, A
NEGOTIATED SETTLEMENT WAS EVENTUALLY ACHIEVED. -IT WAS NOT
EASY. IT TOOK TIME BUT IT WAS ACCOMPLISHED. THAT AGREEMENT
WILL BENEFIT ALL CANADIANS. DIFFERENCES OF THE PAST CAN
NOW BE PUT ASIDE AND GOVERNMENTS ARE NOW WORKING TOGETHER
TO ACHIEVE THE COMMON GOAL OF ENERGY SELF-SUFFICIENCY.
I HAVE ASKED MYSELF: KWHY CAN’T WE ACCOMPLISH THE SAME LEVEL
OF AGREEMENT ON THE CONSTITUTION?” THE ONLY ANSWER I CAN
COME UP WITH IS THAT ON THE ENERGY QUESTION THE FEDERAL GOVERN-
MENT ULTIMATELY REALIZED THAT UNILATERAL ACTION WOULD NOT WORK
AND THAT AN AGREEMENT MUST BE WORKED OUT WITH THE PRODUCING
PROVINCES.
I REFER TO THE ENERGY NEGOTIATIONS BECAUSE DESPITE OUR INITIAL
STRONG DIFFERENCES AN ACCORD WAS EVENTUALLY ACHIEVED. ALBERTANS
FEEL THAT A SIMILAR AGREEMENT SHOULD BE POSSIBLE IN THE AREA
OF THE CONSTITUTION, BUT IT WILL NOT BE ACHIEVED IF THE COURSE
OF UNILATERAL FEDERAL ACTION IS CONTINUED – ARBITRARY DEADLINES
ARE IMPOSED AND AN ATMOSPHERE OF THREAT SUSTAINED. ~ –
CANADIANS HAVE A NUMBER OF ISSUES CONFRONTING US: UNNECESSARILY
HIGH INTEREST RATES AND INFLATION, TO MENTION TWO OF THE MORE
URGENT AND PRESSING MATTERS. DESPITE THESE RECURRING ECONOMIC

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PROBLEMS, THE LAST THREE FIRST MINISTERS’CONFERENCES
(INCLUDING THIS ONE) HAVE BEEN ON THE CONSTITITION — NOT
THE ECONOMY — EVEN THOUGH THE PROVINCES HAVE REPEATEDLY
CALLED FOR A MEETING WITH YOUR GOVERNMENT TO CO-OPERATE IN
RESOLVING THESE SERIOUS ECONOMIC PROBLEMS.
A LITTLE OVER ONE YEAR AGO WE CONVENED IN THIS VERY ROOM
TO DISCUSS THE REFORM OF THE CANADIAN CONSTITUTION. OUR
OBJECTIVE WAS TO RENEW THE CANADIAN CONSTITUTION TO BETTER
SERVE THE NEEDS AND ASPIRATIONS OF ALL CANADIANS. WE
ATTENDED THE SEPTEMBER 1980 CONFERENCE WITH THE HOPE AND
EXPECTATION THAT ALL OF US AT THIS TABLE COULD AGREE ON
SUBSTANTIVE CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGE. AS WE ALL KNOW, THAT
CONFERENCE FAILED. INDEED, SOME WOULD SUGGEST THAT FROM THE
VERY BEGINNING THAT CONFERENCE WAS DESIGNED TO FAIL.
AT THAT TIME, MR. CHAIRMAN, YOU WILL RECALL THAT THE PROVINCES
CALLED FOR A CONTINUATION OF DISCUSSIONS. THIS WAS LATER
CONFIRMED, ON OUR PART, BY THE RESOLUTION OF THE ALBERTA
LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY PASSED ON NOVEMBER 2A, 1980. FOR ALMOST
A YEAR, ALBERTA HAS BEEN READY TO RESUME DISCUSSION. IT IS
NOT THE PROVINCES THAT HAVE BEEN THE CAUSE OF THE DELAY.
DESPITE THE TENSIONS THAT WERE EVIDENT AT THE SEPTEMBER 1980
CONFERENCE, I THOUGHT THAT THROUGH AN EARNEST CONTINUATION OF

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DISCUSSIONS, WE COULD HAVE RESOLVED THE ISSUES BEFORE US. THAT
PROCESSS OF CONSTITUTIONAL RENEWAL WAS UNFORTUNATELY ABRUPTLY
ENDED BY THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT.
DESPITE THE VERY REAL PROGRESS THAT HAD BEEN MADE — FOR EXAMPLE
ALL PROVINCIAL GOVERNMENTS HAD AGREED IN PRINCIPLE IN SEPTEMBER
1980 TO SUPPORT THE VANCOUVER CONSENSUS AMENDING FORMULA —
THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT UNILATERALLY CHOSE TO EMBARK ON A COURSE
OF ACTION DESIGNED TO AMEND THE CONSTITUTION OF OUR FEDERATION.
MR. CHAIRMAN, I WAS DEEPLY SADDENED THAT THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT
CHOSE SUCH A RECKLESS COURSE AGAINST THE EXPRESS OPPOSITION OF
THE MAJORITY OF THE PROVINCES AND THE MAJORITY OF PEOPLE OF
CANADA. NEVER BEFORE IN OUR COUNTRY’S HISTORY — AND THERE
ARE NO EXCEPTIONS — HAS ANY FEDERAL GOVERNMENT EMBARKED UPON
SUCH A DIVISIVE COURSE OF ACTION. NEVER BEFORE HAS A FEDERAL
GOVERNMENT ATTEMPTED TO AMEND THE CONSTITUTION IN AREAS DIRECTLY
AFFECTING THE CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE
PROVINCES WITHOUT THEIR CONSENT. NEVER BEFORE HAS A FEDERAL
GOVERNMENT ESTABLISHED ARBITRARY DEADLINES FOR CONSTITUTIONAL
NEGOTIATION. THE ACTIONS OF THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT VIOLATE
THE SPIRIT AND INTENT OF CONFEDERATION; THEY ARE A.NEGATION ‘
OF THE PARTNERSHIP UPON WHICH THIS COUNTRY WAS FOUNDED. ALL
PREVIOUS FEDERAL GOVERNMENTS — LIBERAL OR CONSERVATIVE — HAVE
RESPECTED THE FEDERAL NATURE OF CANADA AND THE CONVENTIONS WHICH
GOVERN ITS OPERATION.

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THE CANADIAN FEDERAL SYSTEM IS A REFLECTION OF THE INHERENT
DIVERSITY OF THIS COUNTRY. CANADA SIMPLY CANNOT BE GOVERNED
UNDER A UNITARY SYSTEM WHERE ALL THE BASIC QUESTIONS ARE LEFT
TO A CENTRAL GOVERNMENT.
WHAT DID THE FATHERS OF CONFEDERATION SEEK IN 1867? THEY .
DESIRED AND CRAFTED A FEDERAL STATE WHICH BALANCED NATIONAL
INTERESTS WITH PROVINCIAL INTERESTS. THEY RECOGNIZED THAT
PROVINCIAL GOVERNMENTS, BY BEING CLOSER TO THE PEOPLE, WERE
ESSENTIAL IN THIS VAST LAND. THE FEDERAL PRINCIPLE WAS
ENSHRINED IN THE EXTENSIVE LIST OF RESPONSIBILITIES ENUMERATED
IN SECTIONS 91 AND 92 OF THE_BRITISH NORTH AMERICA ACT. THIS
FEDERAL PRINCIPLE HAS BEEN REAFFIRMED TIME AND TIME AGAIN BY
THE COURTS, GOVERNMENTS, SCHOLARS, AND HosT IMPORTANTLY, BY
THE PEOPLE. IT HAS NEVER BEEN SERIOUSLY CHALLENGED OR
THREATENED — UNTIL NOW.
WHAT DOES THE FEDERAL PRINCIPLE MEAN? IT MEANS THAT ONE ORDER
OF GOVERNMENT, FEDERAL OR PROVINCIAL, CANNOT UNILATERALLY
CHANGE THE RIGHTS OF THE OTHER ORDER OF GOVERNMENT WITHOUT THAT
GOVERNMENT’S CONSENT.
WHAT IS AT STAKE IS THE VERY NATURE OF OUR FEDERAL SYSTEM AND
ITS FUTURE. WE ARE AT THE CROSSROAD OF EITHER CONTINUING TO
SUPPORT THE FEDERAL PRINCIPLE OR OF IGNORING IT. ONCE THE
DECISION IS MADE THERE WILL BE NO TURNING BACK.

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ONE OR TWO WORDS ON THE SUPREME COURT OF CANADA DECISION ARE,
NECESSARY. IN EFFECT WHAT THE SUPREME COURT SAID WAS THAT’
THE PROPOSED COURSE OF ACTION BY THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT WAS
WRONG … WRONG. THE SUPREME COURT STATED THAT:
“THE FEDERAL PRINCIPLE CANNOT BE RECONCILED WITH
A STATE OF AFFAIRS WHERE THE MODIFICATION OF
PROVINCIAL LEGISLATIVE POWERS COULD BE OBTAINED
BY THE UNILATERAL ACTION OF THE FEDERAL AUTHORITIES.
I IT WOULD INDEED OFFEND THE FEDERAL PRINCIPLE THAT
“A RADICAL CHANGE TO (THE) CONSTITUTION (BE) TAKEN
AT THE REQUEST OF A BARE MAJORITY OF THE MEMBERS OF
THE CANADIAN HOUSE OF COMMONS AND SENATE.”
FOLLOWING THE SUPREME COURT DECISION THERE WAS A LOT OF DISCUSSION
AS TO THE WINNERS AND LOSERS. IN MY VIEW, IT IS REGRETTABLE THAT
THE CANADIAN CONSTITUTION IS BEING DISCUSSED IN TERMS OF WINNERS
AND LOSERS. LET THERE BE NO MISTAKE, MR. CHAIRMAN, THE SUPREME
COURT DID NOT SAY THAT WHAT THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT IS PROPOSING
IS LEGAL BUT RATHER THAT THERE IS NOTHING IN LAW TO PREVENT THE
PASSAGE OF THE FEDERAL RESOLUTION, WHICH IS AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT
MATTER. ”
THE SUPREME COURT CONCLUDED THAT:
“THE AGREEMENT OF THE PROVINCES OF CANADA, NO VIEWS
BEING EXPRESSED AS TO ITS QUANTIFICATION, IS CON-
STITUTIONALLY REQUIRED FOR THE PASSING OF THE

_.7_._
‘PROPOSED RESOLUTION FOR A JOINT ADDRESS TO HER
MAJESTY RESPECTING THE CONSTITUTION OF CANADA
AND THAT THE PASSING OF THIS RESOLUTION WITHOUT
SUCH AGREEMENT WOULD BE UNCONSTITUTIONAL IN THE
CONVENTIONAL SENSE”.
THE SUPREME COURT DETERMINED — AND BY DOING SO SUPPORTED THE
PROVINCIAL CONTENTION — THAT NOT ONLY IS THERE AN ESTABLISHED
CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION REQUIRING PROVINCIAL AGREEMENT TO
APIENDMENTS TO AFFECTING PROVINCIAL
RIGHTS, BUT ALSO THAT IT WOULD BE UNCONSTITUTIONAL FOR PARLIAMENT
TO PROCEED UNILATERALLY WITHOUT THE AGREEMENT OF PROVINCIAL
GOVERNMENTS.
CANADA’S CONSTITUTION OR RULE BOOK IS A MIX OF WRITTEN AND
UNWRITTEN RULES. THE SUPREME COURT STATED IN UNMISTAKABLE
LANGUAGE THAT SOME OF THE UNWRITTEN RULES ARE MORE IMPORTANT
THAN THE WRITTEN ONES, EVEN IF THE COURT CANNOT PREVENT THEIR
BREACH. ONE EXAMPLE — IT IS NOT A WRITTEN BUT AN UNWRITTEN
RULE THAT THE PRIME MINISTER MUST RESIGN OR CALL AN ELECTION
IF HE IS DEFEATED ON A MAJOR MATTER IN PARLIAMENT. TO IGNORE
A CRUCIAL UNWRITTEN RULE – ONE THAT WAS EXPRESSLY RECOGNIZED
BY THE SUPREME COURT – WILL HAVE GRAVE AND, I HATE TO SAY IT,
BUT POSSIBLY EVEN TRAGIC CONSEQUENCES FOR OUR NATION AND ITSY
UNITY. IT WOULD NOT BE A MERE “POLITICAL RISK” BUT WOULD BE
A FLAGRANT DISREGARD OF OUR NATION’S HISTORY, TRADITIONS AND
ITS PRINCIPLES.

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IF THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT SUCCEEDS IN HAVING ITS PACKAGE:
PASSED IN BRITAIN — AND THAT IS BY NO MEANS ASSURED —
THE SUPREME COURT RECOGNIZED THAT WE WOULD BE A DIFFERENT
FEDERATION — MADE DIFFERENT AT THE INSTANCE OF A BARE,
MAJORITY OF THE HOUSE OF COMMONS AND THE SENATE. MANY
CANADIANS INSTINCTIVELY KNOW THAT UNILATERAL ACTION IS WRONG.
ALBERTA, AS DO ALL THE PROVINCES, FULLY SUPPORTS THE OBJECTIVE
OF PATRIATION OF THE CANADIAN CONSTITUTION — THAT IS NO ISSUE
AT ALL.
BUT THE RESOLUTION OF CANADA’S CONSTITUTIONAL QUESTIONS MUST
BE ACCOMPLISHED THROUGH FEDERAL-PROVINCIAL DISCUSSION AND
AGREEMENT AND NOT BY UNILATERAL FEDERAL ACTION. SUCH FUNDAMENTAL
CHANGES SHOULD BE IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE SPIRIT IN WHICH OUR
PRESENT CONSTITUTION WAS FORMED, WITH THE PARTICIPATION OF ALL
GOVERNMENTS. CANADIANS WANT A “MADE IN CANADA” CONSTITUTION ~-
NOT A “MADE IN BRITAIN” CONSTITUTION.
MR. CHAIRMAN, EIGHT PROVINCES WITH VASTLY DIFFERENT HISTORICAL
BACKGROUNDS, ECONOMIC INTERESTS AND DIFFERENT POLITICAL PERSUASIONS
WERE ABLE TO AGREE ON AN APPROPRIATE METHOD TO PATRIATE AND AMEND
THE CANADIAN CONSTITUTION. I REFER, OF COURSE, TO THE APRIL 16TH
CONSTITUTIONAL ACCORD WHICH CLEARLY AND POSITIVELY DEMONSTRATES
THAT CONSTITUTIONAL PROGRESS IS POSSIBLE WHEN ALL PARTIES APPROACH
THE ISSUE WITH GOOD WILL AND SINCERITY. NOT THROUGH THREATS BUT
THROUGH CONSTRUCTIVE AND MEANINGFUL DISCUSSIONS.

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WHAT IS THE TASK BEFORE US? -REDUCED TO ITS BASIC ELEMENTS
WE SHOULD STRIVE TO ACHIEVE PATRIATION WITH AN AMENDING
FORMULA ACCEPTABLE TO ALL GOVERNMENTS.: WE ARE ALL AGREED
ON THE NEED FOR PATRIATION AND AN AMENDING FORMULA. THERE
ARE NO PRECONDITIONS. THEREFORE, PATRIATION SHOULD BE OUR
IMMEDIATE GOAL.
FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF ALBERTA, ANY AMENDING FORMULA THAT
IS DEVISED MUST INCORPORATE THE PRINCIPLE OF PROVINCIAL
EQUALITY AND REFLECT THE NEED TO PROTECT EXISTING PROVINCIAL
LEGISLATIVE POWERS, RIGHTS AND PRIVILEGES. I MAKE NO APOLOGY
FOR ADOPTING MY POSITION THAT STRONG PROVINCES MAKE FOR A
STRONGER COUNTRY. THE AMENDING FORMULA ALREADY DEVELOPED BY
THE PROVINCES IN NO WAY WEAKENS THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT, NOR
DOES IT OFFEND THE FEDERAL PRINCIPLE.
ONCE AGREEMENT ON AN AMENDING FORMULA HAS BEEN REACHED THE
CONFERENCE CAN THEN DECIDE WHETHER IT WISHES TO ADD OTHER
MATTERS OR WAIT TO COMPLETE THE TASK OF CONSTITUTIONAL REVISION
AFTER PATRIATION HAS BEEN ACHIEVED.
MR. CHAIRMAN, THE END CANNOT JUSTIFY THE MEANS WHEN THE METHOD
CONTRADICTS THE VERY PRINCIPLE OF FEDERALISM WHICH HAS BEEN
RESPECTED THROUGHOUT OUR NATION’S HISTORY. I HAVE ALWAYS
THOUGHT THAT THE PURPOSE OF THESE DISCUSSIONS WAS TO UNITE
CANADIANS. RATHER THAN UNITE ALL CANADIANS BEHIND A COMMON
GOAL, THE CONSTITUTIONAL DEBATE HAS DIVIDED US AS WE HAVE

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NEVER BEEN DIVIDED BEFORE. IT IS NOT A FLAG DEBATE! TO AVOID
FURTHER DIVISIONS, ALBERTA’S OVERRIDING OBJECTIVE IS TO PRESERVE
AND PROTECT THE FEDERAL PRINCIPLE WHICH IS THE VERY FOUNDATION
OF OUR CONSTITUTION.

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