Federal-Provincial Conference of First Ministers on the Constitution, Notes for Opening Remarks of Premier J. Angus MacLean (2-5 November 1981)


Document Information

Date: 1981-11-02
By: J. Angus Maclean
Citation: First Ministers’ Conference on the Constitution, Notes for Opening Remarks of Premier J. Angus MacLean, Doc 800-15/007 (Ottawa: 2-5 November 1981).
Other formats: Click here to view the original document (PDF).


The HTML Text Below Has Not Yet Been Edited

This document has not yet been edited for mistakes. Help us out by correcting the text and mailing it as a text file to pd@theccf.ca. Your help will make PrimaryDocuments.ca the most complete word-searchable electronic repository of documents relating to the Canadian constitution. For more information consult our Be a Contributor page.

Read the unedited text

FEDERAL—PROVINCIAL CONFERENCE

FIRST MINISTERS ON THE CONSTITUTION
Notes for Opening Remarks
9.2
Premier J. Angus MacLean
Prince Edward Island
Ottawa
“November 1981

1.
MR. CHAIRMAN, AND FELLOW FIRST MINISTERS;
At the outset of my remarks, I suggest
that it is important that we agree on certain ground rules
or parameters for our discussions. You will not be surprised,
Mr. Chairman, to hear that I was singularly impressed by
the following quotation from the Supreme Court’s decision:
“IT SHOULD BE BORNE IN MIND THAT WHILE THEY
(CONVENTIONS) ARE NOT LAWS, SOME CONVENTIONS
MAY BE MORE IMPORTANT THAN SOME LAWS. THEIR
IMPORTANCE DEPENDS ON THAT OF THE VALUE OR
PRINCIPLE WHICH THEY ARE MEANT TO SAFEGUARD.”
We must be concerned not only with constitutional legalities
but also with our time—honoured, Canadian conventions- My
position, simply stated, is that the principles which our
conventions safeguard must not be bargained away. But with
that limitation, Mr. Chairman, I can assure you that Prince
Edward Island is prepared to weigh and consider any alterations
or modifications in our individual or collective positions
which may be advanced.

2.
In this same vein, Mr. Chairman, I must
observe that Prince Edward Island’s opposition to what I
would call the “Ottawa process” is based on our contention
that the unilateral action of your government is contrary
6 ~
to any reasonable exercise or process in a federal state.
Therefore, we quite naturally applaud the Supreme Court’s
concern for what it calls the “federal character of the
Canadian Constitution .J..” and I reiterate my earlier position
that if our goals are realistic, the necessary concensus is
achievable.
Much has happened, Mr. Chairman, since
our last meeting. Political upheavals and assassinations have
been all too common in some parts of the world. And yet, in
the course of this constitutional exercise we have been bom-
barded with models for constitutional reform drawn from other
countries and other traditions. Need we look beyond our
boundaries, Mr. Chairman? Despite increasing unrest, I remain
convinced that our federation ——— that equation of law +
convention —-— has stood the test of time; it has adapted
and can continue to adapt unless we fetter its flexibility.

Perhaps it is appropriate for me, as
Premier of Prince Edward Island, the “birthplace of
Confederation”, to state the obvious: Prince Edward Island
does not seek to increase its power or position in this nation
at the expense of either our sister provinces or the federal
government. We continue to acknowledge the need for a strong
federal government as an essential link in the chain of
Canada …… but not at the expense of diminishing the powers
and conventions of the provincial links in that chain. Nor are
we interested in the dimunition of the powers of the federal
government; we have not supported proposals such as the
transfer of family law jurisdiction to the provinces. Much has
been made, Mr. Chairman, of the distribution of powers in
this constitutional exercise but I remain impressed by the
sentiment of the wording on the commemorative plaque in
our Confederation Memorial Chamber in Charlottetown,
” . . . . THEY BUILDED BETTER THAN THEY KNEW . . . . ”

4.
Speaking more personally for a moment,
as a First Minister soon voluntarily to become a backbencher, I
remain convinced that our democratic way must be more than a
mere exercise in arithmetic. A constitution should not be
imposed on Canadians by a group which has only a simple
majority. In our constitution—making we are proposing “the
rules by which future generations will govern themselves”.
We are not dealing with “ordinary” law -——amendable as it is
at the whim of parliaments—-— but with principles and procedures
which will determine the governance of Canada. Whatever the end
result of our deliberations, our actions and conclusions must be
generally acceptable to our governments and people.

5.
Mr. Chairman, to suggest -—- as has been
suggested on occasion——— that any government represented
around this table has not entered willingly into the
constitutional review exercise is a considerable misrepresent-
ation. Many of us have offered substantial changes or
accommodations to ourhistoric positions within the Canadian
union. And again, Mr. Chairman, Prince Edward Island will
entertain further alterations to effect a “Canadian” compromise.
A little over one year ago, watching our
deliberations in this same hall, Canadians were urged to believe
that we had failed in our discussions. At that time, I was
prompted to say,
“IT IS CLEAR TO ME THAT CANADA IS STRONG
ENOUGH TO SURVIVE OUR FAILURE TO MEET A
_ SELF-IMPOSED DEADLINE. ”
Despite our agonizing of past months, Canada remains strong
….but that is no reason to abuse her strength. We must
assure, Mr. Chairman, that we do not inflict permanent scars
on our continued growth as a nation.

Read less

Leave a Reply