Federal-Provincial Conference of First Ministers on the Constitution, Opening Statement by Honourable A. Brian Peckford, Premier Newfoundland and Labrador (2-5 November 1981)


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Date: 1981-11-02
By: A. Brian Peckford
Citation: First Ministers’ Conference on the Constitution, Opening Statement by Honourable A. Brian Peckford, Premier Newfoundland and Labrador, Doc 800-15/011 (Ottawa: 2-5 November 1981).
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OPENING STATEMENT
BY
HONOURABLE A. BRIAN PECKFORD
PREMIER
NEWFOUNDLAND AND LABRADOR
AT THE
FIRST MINISTERS‘ CONFERENCE
ON THE
CANADIAN CONSTITUTION
Ottawa
November 2 , 1981 .
DOCUMENT: 800-15/Oll

MR. CHAIRMAN: DURING THE SUMMER OF 1980 THE GOVERNMENT
OF NEWFOUNDLAND PARTICIPATED WITH ENTHUSIASM IN THE
CONSTITUTIONAL DISCUSSIONS AND NEGOTIATIONS. AS PART
OF THIS PROCESS THE GOVERNMENT OF NEWFOUNDLAND DEVELOPED
A WHITE PAPER ON CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGE ENTITLED –
“TOWARDS THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY — TOGETHER”. AND
THAT IS THE WAY THAT NEWFOUNDLANDERS WANT THE TWENTY~FIRST
CENTURY TO BE — TOGETHER – WITH ALL OTHER CANADIANS,
WITH OUR NEIGHBOURS IN THE MARITIME PROVINCES, OUR
NEIGHBOURS IN QUEBEC, ONTARIO, THE PRAIRIES AND
BRITISH COLUMBIA.
NEWFOUNDLAND’S CONSTITUTIONAL POSITION IS BASED
ON FOUR PRINCIPLES. FIRST, WE ARE COMMITTED TO THE
PROCESS OF PARLIAMENTARY DEMOCRACY AND THE CONSTITUTIONAL
MONARCHY. OUR CONSTITUTIONAL EVOLUTION FROM A COLONY
TO SELF~GOVERNING DOMINION IN THE COMMONWEALTH AND,
FINALLY, AS A PROVINCE OF CANADA, ILLUSTRATES THE
FLEXIBILITY OF OUR SYSTEM OF PARLIAMENTARY DEMOCRACY.
SECONDLY, NEWFOUNDLAND IS DEDICATED TO A BALANCED
FEDERALISM, ONE IN WHICH BOTH FEDERAL AND PROVINCIAL
GOVERNMENTS ARE STRONG. WE REJECT ANY VIEW WHICH SEES
CANADA AS DEVELOPING INTO A UNITARY STATE. WE ALSO
REJECT A VISION OF CANADA AS A LOOSE ASSOCIATION OF
PROVINCES.

–2_
THIRDLY, WE ENDORSE THE PRINCIPLE OF EQUALITY —
EQUALITY OF PROVINCES AND EQUALITY OF PEOPLE. EACH
PROVINCE MUST HAVE AN EQUAL RIGHT TO MAINTAIN AND
DEVELOP ITS CULTURAL ROOTS AND TRADITIONAL VALUES,
NOT MERELY AS AN OBJECT OF FOLKLORIC INTEREST, BUT
AS THE LIFE BLOOD OF ITS PEOPLES’ IDENTITY. SIMILARLY,
THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT MUST HAVE THE RIGHT TO MAINTAIN
AND DEVELOP THE NATIONAL IDENTITY AND TRADITIONS
COMMON TO ALL CANADIANS.
OUR FOURTH AND MOST IMPORTANT PRINCIPLE IS OUR
CONVICTION THAT A NEW CONSTITUTION, SUITABLE FOR
CONTEMPORARY CANADA, WILL ONLY EVOLVE FROM THE PROCESS
OF CONSENSUS. I BELIEVE MOST COLLEAGUES AROUND THIS
TABLE, PRIME MINISTER, WILL AGREE WITH ME WHEN I SAY
THAT UNILATERAL ACTION CREATES DIVISIONS WITHIN CANADA,
AND RUNS COUNTER TO THE CANADIAN TRADITION. MOREOVER,
IT FRUSTRATES THE HOPES OF CANADIANS WHO LOOK TO THE
PROCESS OF CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM AS A MEANS OF
STRENGTHENING OUR COUNTY. THEREFORE, PRIME MINISTER,
WE ARE MORE CONVINCED THAN EVER THAT IT IS ONLY THROUGH
CONSENSUS THAT THE BEST INTERESTS OF THE CANADIAN
PEOPLE WILL BE REALIZED.

-3-
YOU WILL RECALL, MR. CHAIRMAN, THAT THIS MOST
RECENT PROCESS IN DEVELOPING OUR CONSTITUTION BEGAN
WITH A MEETING YOU CALLED AT YOUR RESIDENCE IN JUNE
OF 1980. AN AGENDA OF TWELVE TOPICS WAS AGREED UPON.
A SERIES OF MEETINGS OF OUR MINISTERS RESPONSIBLE FOR
CONSTITUTIONAL MATTERS WAS HELD THROUGHOUT THE SUMMER
OF I980. THERE WAS SUBSTANTIAL AGREEMENT AMONG THE
PROVINCES ON MANY OF THE SUBJECTS. THE PROCESS CULMINATED
IN A MEETING YOU CALLED IN SEPTEMBER 1980. UNFORTUNATELY
IT WAS NOT POSSIBLE AT THAT TIME TO REACH AGREEMENT.
SUBSEQUENTLY, THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT DECIDED TO
ACT UNILATERALLY. WITH A CERTAIN SADNESS SIX OF THE
PROVINCES INITIATED REFERENCES IN THREE COURTS OF APPEAL.
AFTER THE APPEAL COURTS‘ JUDGMENTS WERE FILED, FINAL
JUDGMENT WAS GIVEN BY THE SUPREME COURT OF CANADA. IN
THIS THE SIX PROVINCES WERE JOINED BY TWO OTHERS.
SPEAKING FOR NEWFOUNDLAND, I DID NOT WELCOME THE
PROSPECT OF SEEKING A COURT REFERENCE. THE TRADITIONAL
WAY OF RESOLVING OUR DIFFERENCES IN CANADA IS THROUGH
CONSENSUS. BUT FACED WITH THE ALTERNATIVE OF UNILATERAL
ACTION, NEWFOUNDLAND HAD NO CHOICE. SUCH UNILATERAL
ACTION IS DIAMETRICALLY OPPOSED TO THE BASIC PRINCIPLES
OF OUR CONSTITUTIONAL POSITION.

_4._
IN PARTICULAR, THIS UNILATERAL ACTION WOULD HAVE MADE
POSSIBLE THE ALTERATION OF THE TERMS OF UNION BETWEEN
CANADA AND NEWFOUNDLAND WITHOUT THE AGREEMENT OF THE
GOVERNMENT, LEGISLATURE, OR PEOPLE OF NEWFOUNDLAND.
THIS IS THE UNANIMOUS DECISION OF THE SUPREME COURT
OF CANADA.
THE GOVERNMENT OF NEWFOUNDLAND HAS A MORAL OBLIGATION
TO ENSURE THAT THE TERMS OF UNION BETWEEN CANADA AND
WHAT WAS THEN THE DOMINION OF NEWFOUNDLAND, AS SIGNED
IN 1949, ARE NOT ABROGATED. NEWFOUNDLAND CANNOT ACCEPT
A CONSTITUTIONAL PROVISION WHEREBY THOSE TERMS OF UNION
MAY BE ALTERED WITHOUT THE CONSENT OF BOTH CONTRACTING
PARTIES. JUST AS IT WOULD BE ABHORRENT TO YOU,
PRIME MINISTER, AND TO THE PEOPLE OF CANADA, IF
NEWFOUNDLAND WERE TO ATTEMPT UNILATERALLY TO CHANGE
ONE OF THESE TERMS OF UNION, SO IT IS UNACCEPTABLE TO
NEWFOUNDLAND FOR THE OTHER SIGNATOR TO HAVE IT WITHIN
ITS POWER TO SO DO. THE SUPREME COURT DECISION MAKES
IT ABSOLUTELY CLEAR THAT UNDER THE PRESENT FEDERAL
PROPOSAL IT WOULD BE POSSIBLE FOR THE TERMS OF UNION
TO BE ALTERED WITHOUT NEWFOUNDLAND’SCONSENT.

_5_
PRIME MINISTER I WISH TO READ INTO THE RECORD
A LETTER DATED OCTOBER 9TH WHICH I RECEIVED FROM
THE HONOURABLE GORDON A. WINTER, FORMER LIEUTENANT-
GOVERNOR OF NEWFOUNDLAND. THE HONOURABLE MR. WINTER
WAS ONE OF THE NEWFOUNDLAND SIGNATORS TO THE
TERMS OF UNION AND PARTICIPATED IN THE NEGOTIATIONS
LEADING UP TO THE SIGNING OF THOSE TERMS. HE IS A
HIGHLY RESPECTED AND DISTINGUISHED NEWFOUNDLANDER
AND CANADIAN. I SHALL READ HIS LETTER IN FULL:
“MY DEAR PREMIER:
I WRITE TO ACKNOWLEDGE RECEIPT OF YOUR LETTER
OF OCTOBER 5TH WHICH I HAVE READ WITH CARE AND CONCERN
WHEN THE TERMS OF UNION WERE BEING NEGOTIATED
IN THE AUTUMN OF 1948 IT WAS AT ONE POINT SUGGESTED
BY OFFICIALS OF THE CANADIAN GOVERNMENT THAT
NEWFOUNDLAND MIGHT ENTER CONFEDERATION THROUGH
PROVISIONS WHICH ALREADY EXISTED IN THE B.N.A. ACT
WHICH MAKE IT POSSIBLE FOR NEWFOUNDLAND TO JOIN THE
CANADIAN UNION BY MEANS OF ADDRESSES TO THE SOVEREIGN
FROM NEWFOUNDLAND AND CANADA. THIS METHOD WAS
REJECTED BY THE NEWFOUNDLAND DELEGATION AND OUR
CHAIRMAN EXPLAINED THAT WE COULD ONLY AGREE TO
TERMS OF UNION THAT WERE TO BECOME PART OF THE
BNA ACT AND THEREBY PART OF THE CONSTITUTION OF CANADA

_6_
WE WERE GIVEN THE FULLEST ASSURANCES AT THE TIME
THAT THIS WOULD MAKE IT UWESIBLE TO CHANGE ALL OR
ANY OF THE TERMS WITHOUT NEWFOUNDLAND’S CONSENT.
THIRTY ODD YEARS LATER IT IS EASY TO SPECULATE
ON WHAT ONE MIGHT HAVE DONE HAD A DIFFERENT SET
OF CIRCUMSTANCES APPLIED, BUT GIVEN THE ATMOSPHERE
IN THIS PROVINCE AT THAT TIME WHEN 49 PERCENT OF
THE PEOPLE HAD EXPRESSED OPPOSITION AND IN SOME
CASES ADAMANT OPPOSITION TO NEWFOUNDLAND’S ENTRY
INTO THE CANADIAN UNION, I THINK IT IS UNLIKELY
THAT I WOULD HAVE FELT ABLE TO BE A PARTY TO
WHAT I REGARD AS A CONTRACTUAL ARRANGEMENT HAD
THERE BEEN ANY THOUGHT IN MY MIND THAT AT SOME
LATER DATE IT WOULD BECOME POSSIBLE TO CHANGE
WITHOUT THE CONSENT OF BOTH PARTIES THE TERMS
OF WHAT WAS A TREATY BETWEEN TWO INDEPENDENT
DOMINIONS.
THE PROBLEMS WHICH FACE THOSE WHO ARE NOW
TRYING TO DEAL WITH THE CONSTITUTION ARE DIFFICULT
AND COMPLEX. PATIENCE AND GOODWILL ARE REQUIRED
TO FIND THE RIGHT SOLUTION BUT THIS SHOULD NOT
INVOLVE THE POSSIBILITY OF BREAKING UNILATERALLY
TREATIES OR CONTRACTS THAT WERE MADE IN GOOD FAITH.

-‘7-
PRIME MINISTER, WE ARE HERE TODAY AS A RESULT
OF THE RECENT DECISION OF THE SUPREME COURT OF CANADA.
THE HIGHEST TRIBUNAL IN OUR LAND HELD THAT THE
CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTIONS OF CANADA REQUIRE
SUBSTANTIAL AGREEMENT AMONG ALL PARTNERS IN OUR
FEDERATION AS A PREREQUISITE FOR CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGE.
THOSE CONVENTIONS WHICH HAVE SERVED OUR COUNTRY AND
OUR PEOPLE SO WELL CANNOT, WITHOUT IMPUNITY, BE
DISREGARDED. THOSE CONVENTIONS, WHICH THE SUPREME
COURT OF CANADA RECOGNIZES AS MORE IMPORTANT THAN
SOME LAWS, MUST BE RESPECTED. IF WE DISREGARD THE
LESSONS OF HISTORY AND OUR OWN CONSTITUTIONAL EVOLUTION,
IF WE TURN OUR BACK ON CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION, WE
ARE LEFT WITH AN UNACCEPTABLE ALTERNATIVE. WE ARE
LEFT WITH A CONSTITUTION IMPOSED ON CANADA BY ONLY
ONE ORDER OF GOVERNMENT. THE RESULT WOULD BE A
CONSTITUTION WHICH WOULD BE DIVISIVE RATHER THAN
UNIFYING, A CONSTITUTION, THE VERY LEGITIMACY OF WHICH
WOULD BE OPEN TO QUESTION.
NEWFOUNDLAND REALIZES THAT IT WILL NOT BE POSSIBLE
TO REACH SUBSTANTIAL AGREEMENT ON THE VARIOUS SUBJECTS
DISCUSSED DURING THE SUMMER OF 1980. WE HAVE, THEREFORE,
AGREED TO DEFER MATTERS OF VITAL IMPORTANCE TO OUR PEOPLE
IN ORDER TO ACCOMPLISH THAT SUBSTANTIAL AGREEMENT WHICH IS
POSSIBLE WITH RESPECT TO PATRIATION AND THE AMENDING
FORMULA.

-3-
I ALL ARE AGREED ON THE PRINCIPLE OF PATRIATION.
WITH RESPECT TO THE AMENDING FORMULA THERE ARE CERTAIN
TESTS WHICH NEWFOUNDLAND REQUIRES FOR THE PROTECTION
OF ITS FUNDAMENTAL INTERESTS. THE FORMULA SHOULD
REFLECT THE EQUAL CONSTITUTIONAL STATUS OF ALL PROVINCES
NEWFOUNDLAND INSISTS ON THE PROTECTION OF ITS TERMS
OF UNION AND ITS TERRITORIAL INTEGRITY. NO CHANGE
AFFECTING A PROVINCE’S RESOURCES, PROPERTY, OR
LEGISLATIVE JURISDICTION,SHOULD BE MADE WITHOUT THE
CONSENT OF THE PROVINCE CONCERNED. THERE SHOULD BE
AGREEMENT THAT THE AMENDING FORMULA ITSELF CANNOT BE
CHANGED WITHOUT THE UNANIMOUS CONSENT OF ALL
GOVERNMENTS OF CANADA.
IN OTTAWA ON APRIL 16TH, EIGHT OF THE ELEVEN
CANADIAN GOVERNMENTS SIGNED A CONSTITUTIONALZECORD.
THE ACCORD PROVIDES FOR PATRIATION WITH AN AMENDING
FORMULA WHICH MEETS THESE REQUIREMENTS. I WOULD
SUGGEST, PRIME MINISTER, THAT IN A COUNTRY AS DIVERSE
AS OURS IT IS ESSENTIAL THAT THE AMENDING FORMULA
BE SUCH AS TO PROTECT THE FUNDAMENTAL INTERESTS OF
ITS CONSTITUENT PARTS.

_9_
MR. CHAIRMAN, FOR A PERIOD OF A FEW YEARS IN
THE LATE l94O’S A BATTLE WAS WAGED IN OUR SMALL PART
OF NORTH AMERICA. THE BATTLE FOR CONFEDERATION WAS
FOUGHT, NOT WITH GUNS, BUT WITH WORDS. THE CULMINATION
OF THE CONFEDERATION DEBATE WAS A RADICAL CHANGE IN
THE CONSTITUTION OF NEWFOUNDLAND. I USE THE WORD
“BATTLE” DELIBERATELY BECAUSE IT HELPS EVOKE SOME
OF THE DEPTH OF EMOTION WHICH CHARACTERIZED THAT
PHASE OF NEWFOUNDLAND’S HISTORY.
MUCH TIME HAS PASSED SINCE I949, BUT THE PEOPLE
OF NEWFOUNDLAND AND LABRADOR STILL FEEL DEEPLY ABOUT
FUNDAMENTAL CONSTITUTIONAL QUESTIONS. IN THE LATE
FORTIES, THE DECISION WAS FRAMED AS A CHOICE BETWEEN
CONFEDERATION AND RESPONSIBLE GOVERNMENT. BUT IF YOU
STEP BACK A LITTLE, YOU CAN SEE THAT THE CHOICE WAS
BETWEEN TWO FORMS OF RESPONSIBLE GOVERNMENT – A FEDERAL
FORM OR A UNITARY FORM. NEWFOUNDLAND CHOSE FEDERALISM.
NOW, THIRTY—TWO YEARS LATER, IT SEEMS THAT WE ARE
FACING ANOTHER FUNDAMENTAL CONSTITUTIONAL QUESTION.
JUST AS NEWFOUNDLANDERS CHOSE FEDERALISM IN I949,
SO WE CHOOSE FEDERALISM IN 1981. WE CALL UPON THE
FEDERAL GOVERNMENT, PRIME MINISTER, TO RESPECT THE
DECISION OF THE SUPREME COURT OF CANADA AND TO JOIN WITH US
IN ORDER TO EFFECT CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGE IN A MANNER
CONSISTENT WITH THAT JUDGMENT.

-10-
WE ARE AT A CRITICAL TIME IN THE HISTORY OF CANADA
WE CANNOT AFFORD THE LUXURY OF A “WINNER-TAKE-ALL”
ATTITUDE. THE STAKES ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN ANYONE’S
PERSONAL VISION OR IDEOLOGY. AT STAKE IS THE FUTURE
OF THE COUNTRY. CANADA IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN ANY
OF US OR ALL OF US.
NEWFOUNDLAND APPROACHES THESE NEGOTIATIONS WITH
AN OPENNESS OF MIND. WE HAVE THE RIGHT TO EXPECT AND
REQUIRE A SIMILAR OPENNESS OF MIND FROM ALL OTHER
PARTICIPANTS.

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