Constitutional Conference of First Ministers, Address by the Honourable John M. Buchanan, Q.C., Premier of Nova Scotia (30 October-1 November 1978)
By: John M. Buchanan
Citation: Constitutional Conference of First Ministers, Address by the Honourable John M. Buchanan, Q.C., Premier of Nova Scotia, Doc 800-8/037 (Ottawa: 30 October-1 November 1978).
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Honourable John M. Buchanan, Q.C.
Premier of Nova Scotia
CONSTITUTIONAL CONFERENCE OF FIRST MINISTERS
October 30, 1978
The constitution of a great nation such as ours is more than
a legal document. It is more than a piece of legislation passed
by one element of the Confederation. It is the living heart of the
political, social and cultural union that binds us as Canadians.
It is the key to the preservation and enhancement of that heritage
which is most precious to us — a parliamentary political system
under the Crown.
As Canadians we are the inheritors of a system of government
and a constitution created over nearly four centuries by the
collective efforts and wisdom of our forefathers.
In our political system which unlike those of other nations
is based in part of convention and precedent, we have a way of
government that protects our freedoms while being uniquely able
to respond to new and unforeseen challenges.
The symbols and institutions of our past are important
because they are part of Canada. These symbols and institutions
must continue if we are to fully understand our present system of
government and plan for the future, as we must, in the light of
our past. As Joseph Howe said in 1871:
“A wise nation preserves its records, gathers up its
muniments, decorates the tombs of its illustrious dead,
repairs its great public structures and fosters national
pride and love of country by perpetual reference to the
sacrifices and glories of the past.”
We Canadians have in the past found ways of working together
for the achievement of common objectives. Our history proves this.
Some of the previous attempts at constitutional revision failed
because of deep and basic disagreement, some because of political
events and some because the will to succeed simply was not strong
enough to carry on with the difficult and time consuming under-
taking. with confidence in my colleagues around this table, I
suggest that we embark on this great undertaking with a will to
succeed which must not fail because of disagreements which we
may have from time to time.
Facing us in three days is a discussion of the entire
spectrum of our political and constitutional fabric. It would be
unrealistic to suppose that we can solve the problems of the
country in three days. This conference is part of a process
which must succeed and Nova Scotia is determined it shall succeed.
But we must also realize that Canada is faced with severe
economic problems. To many Canadians these discussions will have
little relevance to their families who face record inflation and
loss of livelihood. we must recognize our duty to address these
questions. Ten years ago a previous administration in the province
of Nova Scotia made the following statement to a Federal-Provincial
“With great respect Nova Scotia submits that the question of
regional economic imbalance is just as important as our much
publicized constitutional difficulties with which we have
great sympathy. Nova Scotia is of the opinion that economic
problems underlie many of the frustrations that have
received attention in recent years. We delude ourselves if
we think that satisfaction of demands respecting constitutional
or human rights matter very much to the man in any province
in Canada who is unemployed for months each year. In his
mind the constitutional questions will take second place
in the struggle to feed, clothe, and educate his family.
we feel that federal-provincial governments have a
responsibility to maintain an appropriate balance in
dealing with the subjects of constitutional change and
regional disparity. we must deal with the constitutional
questions effectively but in so doing let us remember that
the average man, wherever he resides in Canada, simply
has to be more concerned about earning a livelihood for his
family in a productive form of employment than he can be
about having his constitutional rights recognized so long
as his social environment is tolerable.”
We see no reason after the passage of ten years to change
I say to you Mr. Prime Minister, in all candour, that we
cannot undertake the task of devising a new constitution faced
with deadlines. Nor can we consider parts of the constitution
in isolation from other parts of the constitution. It is one
constitution for the federal government and one constitution for
the provinces. It is one constitution for the people of Canada.
The Confederation of 1867 was achieved through the collective
endeavors of the Fathers of Confederation without unilateral
action by any one party. Agreement was then and must still be,
the only way by which we resolve our constitutional problems.
There are a number of specific points to which I will now
THE MONARCHY :
The province of Nova Scotia supports a constitutional
Monarchy and asserts that there should be no change in the role
of the Queen. we recognize that practices and conventions have
developed through the years and that it is not always easy to
state a convention of the constitution in legislative language.
We believe that the powers of the Crown must remain vested in the
Monarch and exercised in Canada by the Governor-General as her
THE CHARTER OF RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS:
It seems to us that rights and freedoms should not be
incorporated into the Canadian constitution unless they apply with
equal force to all Canadians wherever they reside. I submit
that it is misleading to put into the Canadian constitution rights
and freedoms of Canadian citizens which are binding on one or more
governments but not on other governments. We believe that the
proposed rights and freedoms should be considered very carefully
and only those which all jurisdictions within this country are
prepared to adopt should become part of the constitution.
We would support a proposal for direct appointment of
provincial representatives to the Second Chamber thereby providing
for the expression of provincial and regional points of view in
that second Chamber.
As Premier of a new Conservative government in Nova Scotia
perhaps I will be forgiven for suggesting that the Senate has
been underused and misused in the past. Changes in the Second
Chamber must be of such a nature as to ensure that we possess a
Second Chamber that will operate as an element in responsible
government with the traditional capacity for “sober second thought”
and most importantly with the capacity of expressing and protecting
provincial regional interests.
We believe that the commitmept to equalization stands apart
from any other program as a pillar of Confederation. The principle
of equalization is completely fundamental to our concept of
Confederation. If the citizens of Canada are to enjoy a reasonable
standard of essential services without an abnormal burden of
taxation we must continue equalization transfers between govern-
We see regional development as a process by which regional
disparities and hence the need for equalization transfers will be
reduced and eventually eliminated. We are committed to develop
Nova Scotian resources to improve our province’s economy. We in
Nova Scotia see great potential in our forests, our fisheries,
our mines, our offshore?resopfpes, and our agriculture. If we
are to develop our resources such as the fishery we must have
greater control over the decisions that are made at the federal
level which so vitally concern our people. Finally, with respect
to our greatest resource, the talent and skills of Nova Scotians,
we can ill afford a transportation system, which has since the
inception of our nation, put our industries at a competitive
disadvantage. Transportation policy must be seen as a development
tool to fulfill the original promises of Confederation. We had
an expectation of economic advantage from Confederation which has
not yet been realized.
DISTRIBUTION OF POWERS:
We are prepared to examine this matter very carefully, but
we must point out that powers, of course, entail responsibilities.
From the very beginning some of the provinces could not finance
the ordinary functions of government. This situation became more
acute as their responsibilities increased, largely by reason of
changes in social, economic and political philosophies. Certainly
in the case of the less affluent provinces, transfer to them of
any additional responsibilities would have to be accompanied by
a transfer of some source of additional fiscal capacity. This
would mean, of course, further transfer of payments from the
government of Canada. whatever happens, the government of
Canada must retain sufficient jurisdiction and resources including
taxing and spending powers to carry out these responsibilities.
We must realize that we are indeed fortunate in comparison
with most of the world’s nations. Why do we find ourselves in
these circumstances? Partly, no doubt, because of accidents of
geography and history for which we can claim no credit. But
these accidents only set the stage and provided the opportunity
for us to become a great nation.
We are what we are because over the past years Canadians
have possessed the imagination, the courage, the determination,
and the willingness to make sacrifices to fulfill their dreams.
The present is the product of these Canadians and their dreams
and it is the will and determination of Canadians that will create
This country has a future. Look around at other countries
and compare their potential for growth and development to ours.
Is there another nation anywhere with more potential and greater
opportunity to achieve for its citizens an unsurpassed quality
We suggest there is not. But potential is one thing and
reality is another. Whether our potential will be realized
depends on us and our attitudes. Canada can continue to be a
great nation and we can go on to the pursuit of achievement if
we have the will and indeed the good will to do so.