Highlights of the Constitutional Amendment Bill
Click here to view the original document (PDF).
The Prime Minister
PRIME MINISTER INTRODUCES BILL
TO AMEND CANADIAN CONSTITUTION
Prime Minister Trudeau has introduced a bill in the House
of Commons to implement proposed changes in the Consti-
tution of Canada, as promised in last week’s policy
paper entitled A Time for Action.
Constitutional reform is to be carried out in two phases:
Phase I will cover matters under federal jurisdiction and
Phase II will cover areas in which co-operation and consent
of the provinces are required.
“It is not the intention of the Government to ask Parliament
to pass the bill at its current session,” the Prime Minister
said. “The intention is to refer the subject matter of the
bill to a joint committee of the Commons and Senate, and for
the Government to have intensive discussions with the prov-
inces, including a conference of First Ministers expected to
take place in the fall.
“Thus, the purpose of the bill is to serve as a basis for
public, parliamentary and intergovernmental discussion in
the months ahead. The Government feels that by putting for-
ward its proposals in detailed, legislative form the process
of public examination can be more sharply focussed and the
timetable for final passage expedited”.
In the bill, the Government sets out in legislative detail
how it plans to proceed with such major changes as replace-
ment of the present Senate by a House of the Federation;
reorganization of the Supreme Court of Canada; the establish-
ment of a Charter of Rights and Freedoms; improved mechanisms
for consultation with the provinces; a constitutional defi-
nition of the role of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and
strengthening of the office of Governor General.
The proposed new Constitution also, for the first time,
would contain a Preamble and Statement of Aims, defining
the principles of nationhood and the national goals of
Following are highlights of the main elements in the
proposed Constitutional Amendment Act 1978:
House of the Federation
The Western Provinces and the Atlantic Region
would have greater representation than they
do in the present Senate. Quebec and Ontario
would each retain their present 24 members in
the Upper House. Western representation would
increase to 36 from the present 24; the Atlantic
region would have 32 seats, up from 30.
Total membership in the House of the Federation
would be ll8. Of these, 58 would be selected
by the federal Government and 58 by the provinces.
All major political parties would be represented
in the new House, on the basis of popular vote
in each province. The federal government would
appoint members after each federal election,
while the representatives of the provinces would
be named after provincial elections.
The House of the Federation would have power to
delay legislation passed by the Commons, and
would be able to initiate legislation of its own,
except for money bills.
The new House would be asked to approve appoint-
ments to the Supreme Court and to some Crown
A special provision to safeguard language rights
would require that any measure deemed to have
“linguistic significanceâ€ be passed by a majority
of English-speaking and a majority of French-
speaking members of the new House.
The Supreme Court
The bill would expand the number of judges
from nine to 11. There would be four from
the Quebec Bar rather than the present three.
Of the remaining seven positions there would
have to be at least one from each of four
regionszthe Atlantic, Ontario, the Prairies
and British Columbia.
The provinces would be consulted before
judges are appointed. In the absence of
agreement, appointments would be made by
a nominating council. All appointments
would be subject to approval by the House
of the Federation.
On matters concerning Quebec civil law,
only the judges from Quebec would make rulings.
An annual meeting of First Ministers would
become a constitutional requirement (enshrining
in law what has become current practice).
The federal government would consult the prov-
inces before appointing lieutenant-governors.
Certain federal payments to the provinces may
be made constitutionally binding, thus protecting
them from sudden and arbitrary termination.
The federal government would consult with the
provinces before invoking its seldom~used
“declaratory power”, under which it may bring
any work or project under federal jurisdiction.
Office of the Governor General
The Governor General would exercise prerogatives,
functions and authority in his own right, as
Canadian head of state. However, the Queen would
remain as always the sovereign head of Canada,
and exercise her full powers when in Canada.
The Council of State
The present Privy Council would become the
Council of State, a title which reflects
more clearly its function.
The Federal Cabinet
For the first time, the functions of the
Prime Minister and Cabinet would be spelled
out in the Constitution, recognizing them
as vital elements in the system of government.
Charter of Rights and Freedoms
The proposed charter would be binding on the
federal government, Parliament and all federal
institutions as soon as it becomes law. It
would become binding on the provinces as and
when they see fit to “opt in”. Joint action
by federal and provincial governments would be
required to have the charter entrenched and
beyond the power of any single government to
Among rights proposed in the bill are freedom
of movement within Canada, and freedom from
discrimination by reason of race, ethnic origin,
color, religion, sex, language or age.
Citizens belonging to an official language
minority would have the right to choose the
minority language for education of their children,
where the number of children warrants the provi-
sion of minority language schools.
Identifiable English-speaking and French-speaking
communities anywhere in Canada would be protected
from reduction of existing rights and practices.
Persons giving evidence would have the right to
use French or English before the Supreme Court or
any federal court; before the courts of Quebec,
Ontario and New Brunswick, and in any court dealing
with a criminal matter or an offence under a provin-
cial law that might result in imprisonment.
The proposed legislation would also add a new section
to the Constitution, reaffirming the red and white maple
leaf flag as the flag of Canada, O Canada as the national
anthem, and God Save the Queen as the royal anthem.
Canada’s motto “A mari usque ad mare” (From sea to sea)
would also be written into the Constitution.
The Prime Minister reaffirmed the Government’s intention
to have the first phase of the constitutional amendment
process completed by July 1, 1979, and the second phase
Leave a Reply