Constitutional Conference, The Honourable Louis J. Robichaud, P.C., Q.C. (8-10 December 1969)
By: Louis J. Robichaud
Citation: Constitutional Conference, The Honourable Louis J. Robichaud, P.C., Q.C., Premier of New Brunswick (Ottawa: 8-10 December 1969).
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THE HONOURABLE LOUIS J. ROBICHAUD,
PREMIER OF NEW BRUNSWICK
December 8, 9 AND 10, 1969
I would like to say how pleased I am to join
you once again to discuss the future course of our
country. Never before in our history has a series
of meetings been more vital to all Canadians than
these which started more than two years ago with
the Confederation of Tomorrow Conference in Toronto.
The task which the Canadian people have set
us is an awesome and difficult one; millions of our
citizens, now unborn, will either thank us, or damn
us, for what we decide in the course of these lengthy
Much has already been accomplished; but
so much more remains undone and unresolved that I
think we are bound to ask ourselves whether the
course we have set in these meetings is the most
useful and effective one.
Most of our work has been based on the belief
that the fundamental division of provincial and
federal powers under the British North America Act
is still sound; that all we have to do is to clarify
and strengthen it.
Yet, has so little changed in the last
Is it wise to place our faith in a document
signed four years before the end of the Franco-
I suggest that it is not.
These are bold times. We must pose bold
questions and take bold, but considered actions.
If we do anything short of this, we fail not only
ourselves but countless future generations of
Canadians; and we would dishonor the hopes and
aspirations of our forefathers who sat down more than
ten decades ago and forged what has been – for its
time – one of the most successful of constitutions.
It is difficult enough for a new country,
with no history of community or cultural solidarity,
to write a constitution with workable political
and legal arrangements that will survive the tensions
and strains placed upon it in this uncertain and
rapidly changing world. There is ample evidence of
this amongst the emerging countries of Africa and
the Far East.
Ironically, it may be more difficult for
a country such as Canada, with more than 100 years
of growth and peaceful development behind it,
to approach a fundamental review of its existing
constitution. The mere fact of our survival and
development during that century lends an aura of
basic reliability and relevance to these present
The result is we shy away from making major
changes and focus instead on correcting minor
inconsistencies and administrative tangles, or
extending the constitution to include certain federal-
provincial arrangements now in force but without
specific constitutional sanction.
I think it is fair to ask ourselves whether
this is enough. Whether the provisions of the
British North America Act as amended, together with
the multitude of non-constitutional arrangements
agreed upon in the last 100 years; will do the job
for the next lOO years?
The present constitution was written
before the automobile, the airplane, mass
transportation, urban sprawl problems of pollution
and wide-spread public programs of health, welfare
and education. Despite this, it has stood up
remarkably well; a tribute both to the wisdom and
foresight of its drafters and to the ingenuity of
legislators during the intervening century.
The Fathers of Confederation could not
foresee that increasing demands for wide-spread
health, welfare, and education services would impose
a crushing financial burden on provincial governments
But succeeding parliaments and legislatures have
recognized this and coped with it as best they could.
The present proliferation of cost-shared
programs reflects these efforts. The federal
government’s insistence on its right to spend in the
national interest – a doctrine which is largely a
justification for intervention in fields of
provincial jurisdiction – is symptomatic of society’s
determination to adjust the constitution to meet
But these advances — for which all
governments can claim credit ~ have taken place
despite constitutional provisions and not because
of them. Very little that has been proposed in
this constitutional review bears directly on a
fundamental anomaly of the British North America Act –
the fact that the jurisdictional allocation of
prime financial responsibility for many programs is
no longer related in any way to the ability of the
jurisdiction to provide these finances.
Where this works the greatest hardship is
in those services that society now widely regards
as being of basic importance – health, welfare,
education; justice, and public housing – programs
which Federal Government has also consistently
regarded as being part of the “public interest”.
Without reservation, I support the Federal
Government’s view of the over-riding national
importance of health, welfare, education and other
fundamental social services to the continued
well-being of Canadian citizens.
We will not have national unity — or a
just society – until all Canadian citizens can
expect adequate education, minimum income maintenance
health services, shelter and equality before the
law as basic rights. Secure in the knowledge that
we will receive these, each of us can build the kind
of life we all want for ourselves, our family and
our community. Without them, we can build little
New Brunswick recognized this within its
own boundaries, when in 1967, it relieved the
municipalities of the crushing financial burden of
health, welfare, education and justice services.
We did this in the belief that these basic services
were the legitimate responsibility of the
government which represented all the people and
which could therefore more equitably insure that all
citizens had equal access to an adequate level of
We have done it and it works.
We have laid a foundation for the just
society in New Brunswick – a foundation which
should extend to every part of this country.
I therefore propose that the Government of
Canada assume the same responsibility for these
basic services on behalf of all Canadians, as the
Government of New Brunswick did for its citizens,
when it introduced the Program for Equal Opportunity.
Such an initiative reinforces the principle
of maintaining a vigorous federal spending power
in the national interest — a position most
persuasively advanced at these meetings by the
Government of Canada.
It would add a new perspective to the dynamic
programs now being developed by the Department of
Regional Economic Expansion – itself one of the most
welcome and significant contributions yet made to
Out of a positive partnership between
both levels of government in these fields would
emerge the kinds of programs that would assist all
Canadians to lead a productive life.
Canada is a country of cultural, ethnic and
linguistic variety. This has been our singular
strength. We are not a melting-pot. Within our
broad federal framework, regions, provinces and
even municipalities have been free to develop,
according to their resources and imagination, the
kind of environment and life-style they desired —
and we are all the richer for it. But no Canadian,
no matter where his home, or what language he speaks
should be deprived of good health, adequate income,
decent housing, education or equality before the
courts just because he lives in a part of this
country which is less able to afford to provide
them than some others.
It is clear that these disparities in
social services do exist, not only amongst provinces
but amongst regions within some of our wealthier
provinces. These disparities persist despite the
best efforts of all governments under the present
Constitution to correct them; and I suggest to you
that they will continue to persist, as long as we
delude ourselves that what is implicitly accepted
in society as a program in the national interest,
can be explicitly labelled in the constitution as a
provincial financial responsibility.
The Constitution must reflect reality not
illusion; it must reflect the present, not the past.
The reality is that basic educational and
social services are a national concern, not simply
a regional or provincial one.
The reality is that many provinces cannot
afford to provide these services at an adequate level
and still meet other responsibilities.
The reality is that Canada is a country
with wide ethnic, cultural and regional diversity
which should be encouraged and developed.
This means that the distribution of powers
in our present constitution – as it affects
financial responsibility for basic educational and
social services – is no longer a practical one.
The Government of Canada and the provinces
must create a new partnership for national unity –
a partnership in which each level of Government is
able to make its most effective contribution towards
building a stronger nation.
But the historical ties between the provincial
governments and their citizens in the development,
implementation and administration of basic educational
and social services must not be broken. The nature
and pattern of Canadian growth over the last lOO years
is clear. The provinces, culturally, politically
and administratively, can best decide how to bring
these vital services to their people. Where the
growth of basic social services has not been adequate,
the fault lay – in most cases – not in a lack of
competence, or awareness,but in a lack of money for
which the Constitution could give no lasting relief.
A new partnership for unity would link the
energies of the provinces to the mighty resources of
the nation and release a force strong enough to overcome
the disparities and inequalities which exist in every
corner of Canada.
what I am proposing cannot be achieved without
difficult analysis and discussion; it has far-reaching
financial implications for both levels of Government.
It will require a re—examination of provincial-federal
financial relationships in other areas – notably
equalization and taxation ~ to ensure that all governments
have adequate resources to meet their respective
responsibilities. Provinces might also wish to be free
to augment federal payments for these services using
provincial revenue sources.
It might mean that the provinces would take
over total financial responsibility for some other
programs where there is now sharing with the
federal government. It would require a degree of
close and effective consultation and perhaps
shared responsibility between the two governmental
levels in the educational and social service areas
that up until now has not been possible or perhaps
necessary; above all, it would demand mutual trust,
understanding, tolerance and frankness – without
which we cannot forge any kind of national unity.
But we must not let these difficulties deter
us from considering a basic constitutional reform
that is clearly in the best interests of all of us;
these problems are in the nature of man and it is
in the nature of man to overcome them.
The concept of the free community as the
source of a healthy and rewarding life for each of
its members is neither new nor revolutionary. But it
I therefore place this proposition before you
for your consideration. I would also urge that the
Continuing Committee of Officials be instructed to
examine it in detail and report back to us as soon