First Ministers Constitutional Conference Statement of Hon. W.N. Rowe
STATEMENT OF HON. W.N. ROWE, NEWFOUNDLAND
The three major types of disparities in Canada which have an economic base have been identified and described on many occasions. The first is that disparity, or inequality or unfair difference which exists in Canada from individual person to individual person or from family to family in respect of income and standard of living. This type of disparity has no claim to be peculiar to any particular region of Canada, but is found in regions of relative affluence as well as regions of relative poverty, the only difference being that its incidence and rate of occurrence is higher in those regions suffering disparity in other respects. Newfoundland’s constitutional position on this has already been indicated namely, that if the Government of Canada does not already have the constitutional power to alleviate this type of disparity, then it ought to be given that power in clear terms.
The second type of disparity which can be truly called regional disparity is the inequality of economic development from region to region in this country. This is the type of disparity for which the Department of Regional Economic Expansion has been established to reduce or destroy. There can be no doubt that the head-on confrontation which Dree is making with this problem will be very effective. The Minister of that department and its officials ought to be congratulated for the swiftness of their action, (the progress which they have made), for the obvious desire which they possess to get rid of this type of disparity, during the very short period which has elapsed since the inception of the department’s operations.
But, Mr. Chairman, there is a third type of regional disparity which is not within the terms of reference of that department, except incidently and
periferally, and which has not been dealt with adequately or effectively to this very day, namely, the grossly unfair differences which exist in standards of public services from region to region, and more specificially, from province to province, in this country.
To take Newfoundland as an example: Even if, by the use by the Government of Canada of some mechanism such as a guaranteed minimum income, the average income of individuals in our province were to be raised significantly, and even if, as a result of the laudable efforts of your Department of Regional Economic Expansion and our own provincial efforts, the economic development of Newfoundland were to be put, to make an optomistic comparison,on a footing similar to that of Ontario, the gap in respect of standards of public services would continue to exist. The gap might not widen, but our lag of decades in respect of roads, health services and municipal services will still be there at any point in time in the future. Newfoundland’s inability for decades and even centuries to provide these services must now be fully taken into account and the gap should be closed completely by massive assistance from the Government of Canada, with the realistice hope that in the future the provincial government will be in a position to keep these services at an average Canadian standard, with no more assistance from the Government of Canada than is received by other provinces. The point is that with the help of Dree we shall likely be put in a position to maintain our services at the level of the Canadian average, but we must be placed at the Canadian average, for we will never get there without massive additional assistance.
Having stated what we consider to be the responsibility of the Government of Canada in respect of Newfoundland and other provinces suffering from disparity as I have described it, we think that such a responsibility should be entrenched in the constitution. We have stated before that the Constitution should declare the need to eliminate such disparities, and the right of all Canadians to enjoy, as nearly as may be, equality of economic development, living standards and public services.
We are not so naive as to think that the mere inclusion of such an obligation on the Government of Canada in a Constitution will be a panacea for regional disparities. It may, in fact be considered meaningless by future Candian governments, who may wish to ignore regional disparities. It may do no good at all. But the real point is that inclusion of such an obligation in the body of a constitution can do us no harm and it may turn out to be of real benefit.
We further think, as I have indicated, that the obligation ought to be expressed as a clause or series of clauses in the constitution, rather than being restricted merely to the preamble. We assume that position because we believe that if a constitutional objective is to be meaningful at all to future generations of Canadians, it has at least a better chance of being meaningful expressed as a clause in the Constitution. The preamble to the American Constitution grandiloquently assures to everyone, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, while the constitution itself allowed slavery for lOO years after it was framed.
The objections which have been made to the notion of entrenched clauses on regional disparities on the grounds of legal unenfdreability ignore the fact that a constitution is or ought to be something more than a legalistic document. Surely, a constitution must be viewed today as a social document as well as a legalistic one; and with regard to regional disparity, we are less concerned at the moment about the precise juridicial and litigation position than in obtaining a general system of norms which express the national purposes or the general objectives, and, in somewhat more specific terms, the general instruments for attaining these objectives.
Even if clauses relating to regional disparity were not legally enforceable, that does not prevent them from becoming potent political forces, if need be, at some future time.
Nor are we overly impressed by the argument that the imposition of an obligation would reduce Parliament’s descretion as to whenand how it dealt with regional when disparities. For, our first concern, is as to whether Parliament deals with regional disparities at all. We are not gravely concerned about reducing Parliament’s discretion-with firm rights in certain areas and to help reduce the possibility that we are misgoverned.
Nor do we considerthat such a constitutional obligation need be in the nature of a rigid equalization formula, but there might be room for a general clause providing for this technique and other techniques, to provide a new constitutional base for such acts as the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act of 196?
The Swiss, and more recently, the Indian and West German Constitutions, provide clear examples and precedents of specific articles relating to general equalization approaches.
Finally, Mr, Chairman, to show that we in Newfoundland are not concerned merely and solely with our own bailiwick with out of reference to the rest of Canada, we believe that a constitution should provide a specific clause relating to the emergence of new regional disparities. Such a clause could state that in order to promote stability of development and public services, a province or provinces suffering from an emergency due to natural causes or trade or other economic factors, will be assisted by the national government in maintaining their operations so that new regional disparities will not emerge.
Provinces of this nation which are now prosperous and affluent may be happy in 50 or 100 years from now that such a clause in a constitution can be invoked to take care of an unforseen long term economic slump.