Canada, House of Commons Debates, “Patriation—Reported Position of United Kingdom Government”, 32nd Parl, 1st Sess (30 October 1980)

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Date: 1980-10-30
By: Canada (Parliament)
Citation: Canada, House of Commons Debates, 32nd Parl, 1st Sess, 1980 at 4243-4245.
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COMMONS DEBATES — October 30, 1980

[Page 4243]



Right Hon. Joe Clark (Leader of the Opposition): Madam Speaker, I have a question for the Secretary of State for External Affairs that flows out of the possibility that new difficulties have arisen in the government’s attempt to have Britain decide constitutional questions which Canada should decide here in Canada. The Secretary of State will know from British news reports that the British government does not want to become the arbitrator between the Canadian federal government and the provincial governments on amendments to the British North America Act. The reports relate both to alleged communications between the British government and Canadian representatives and to more recent statements by British government spokesmen.

My first question is: Has there been any suggestion, in correspondence or conversation involving ministers or representatives of the two governments, to the effect that the British government wants basic Canadian disagreements to be resolved in Canada before Ottawa asks Britain to resolve them?

Hon. Mark MacGuigan (Secretary of State for External Affairs): Madam Speaker, there has been no such request made by the government of the United Kingdom. There was a news story published this morning with which I am acquainted—it was also denied at 10 Downing Street this morning—to the effect that no message had been sent to the Canadian government as that earlier communique suggested.

There was also a news report stating that my colleague the Minister of the Environment and I, while in England, were told that the British government would not accommodate a request to patriute the constitution itt the face of violent provincial disagreement during this years parliamentary session. That report is entirely false.

Mr. Clark: Madam Speaker. I understand. as docs this House, that the minister’s department earlier denied the report in The Times as it was written. That was not my question. My question was: Has there been any suggestion communicated, in conversation or in any other communication, between British

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government ministers or representatives and Canadian government ministers or representatives suggesting that the British would want basic Canadian disagreements to be resolved in Canada before Ottawa asks Britain to resolve them? I am not asking for paragraph by paragraph verification of The Times story; I am asking the question whether or not there has been any suggestion to that effect conveyed in any way by any representatives of the British government to the Canadian government.

Mr. MacGuigan: Madam Speaker, there has certainly been no proposal or request of that kind in our discussions with the British government. We had a free-flowing discussion, and while many possibilities were canvassed, as happens in a discussion of this nature, certainly that was not the way in which the conversation ended. There was no request, suggestion or proposal of that kind.

Mr. Clark: Madam Speaker, I believe that the minister has now said that there was no suggestion of that kind at any time. If that is what he intended to say, I would like him to verify his statement. Since the government stratcgy document anticipated provincial and parliamentary opposition to certain parts of the Liberal proposal, will the minister tell the House of Commons whether Canadian ministers or representatives raised with the British government or representatives the possibility of disagreement here in Canada and the possibility that Britain might have to decide questions that are deeply contentions in Canada?

Mr. MacGuigan: We certainly acquainted the British government and its representatives with the fact that there would be disagreement itt Canada. That was already apparent at the time we saw them but, of course, there was a common assumption on both sides that the normal constitutional convention in the United Kingdom would be followed, namely, that the advice of the Canadian government would be the advice heard by the British government and that a joint resolution of the Canadian Parliament would be what is accepted by the British Parliament.

Mr. Clark: Madam Speaker, the minister and the rest of the House will know that detailed memoranda of conversations of this kind are kept. In light of the extraordinary circumstances, it being important that all members of Parliament know exactly what was discussed between ministers and, indeed, between officials on this question, and in light of the extraordinary situation of the government seeking a joint address on a matter that is contentious in Parliament and a matter of disagreement among the provinces and under challenge in the courts, I wonder if the minister would agree to publish the Canadian memoranda of the conversations in which he and his colleague, the minister responsible for the environment and other things, participated. In these extraordinary circuntstances I wonder if there would be a willingness to publish those memoranda.

Mr. MacGuigan: Madam Speaker, I do not think that would be in accord with the precedents nor with the practice, because it would remove the sense of con?dentiality all sides have in discussions of this kind.

As I mentioned to the Right Hon. Lender of the Opposition. there was free-flowing discussion with various representatives of the British government. We have stated here the conclusions of that discussion. I do not think it would be appropriate to go through the discussion here in Parliament.


Hon. Jake Epp (Provcncher): Madam Speaker, my question is directed to the same minister. I want to reiterate that it is our belief that this is a Canadian matter, that we should patriate the constitution with an amending formula which has widespread support here in Canada and that all future amendments should be made in Canada.

In view of the at best very weak denial he issued this morning—his press release says that he denies the story as written. so the minister is obviously leaving a fair amount of doubt that there was veracity to the story in The Times this tnorning—just on this narrow point, what would be the position of the government of the United Kingdom if there was widespread disagreement in Canada, including among the provinces? Can the minister answer that specific question?

Hon. Mark MacGuigan (Secretary of State for External Affairs): Madam Speaker, I do not know to what communication this morning the hon. member is referring. I issued no press release this morning. ln fact, my view was that the matter should await the House this afternoon where I assumed there would be questions. It may be that some answers were given by spokesmen for the department, but they were not intended to express our total reaction to the proposals or the comments which were being made by some British and Canadian media.

With respect to the precise question the hon. member asks. as I said, the common assumption on botlt sides during the discussion, which was never questioned by anyone and in fact has been expressly affirmed both in public and in private by the United Kingdom government, is that what the United Kingdom parliament looks to is a joint resolution of both Houses of this Parliament and nothing else.

Mr. Epp: Madam Speaker, my supplementary question is to the same minister and it flows out of his answer. It obviously raises the question of who is responsible in his department for press releases. More importantly, in view of the difficulty in which this minister has now put this House and in view of the various reports he has given, will he assure the House that he will make a statctnent on ntotions to explain clearly what happened.

Further, itt view of the requests of a nuntbcr of Canadians. notwithstanding also the premiers at the first ministers’ conference, would the minister recommend to his cabinet colleagues

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that an early meeting be convened between the Prime Minister and the premiers to discuss one agenda item only, namely, an amending formula, so that the joint address could then go forward with regard to patriation with an amending formula that would then have the widespread support all of us seek?

Mr. MacGuigan: Madam Speaker. I will certainly give consideration to thc hon. member’s request for a statement on motions. but I will not accede to his request to change the policy of the government, which I fully support. There has been no ambiguity whatsoever in the statements made by me and the Minister of the Environment. We have stated with no ambiguity since our return—and, indeed, in the United Kingdom before our return—that the United Kingdom would follow the traditional convention that a joint resolution of this House would be followed by the British parliament and honoured by the British government, and that the only adviser to the British government on Canadian constitutional matters is the Canadian government.

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