Memorandum from R.G. Robertson [Meeting with Mr. Bourassa on “patriation” of the constitution] to the Prime Minister (29 May 1975)

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Date: 1975-05-29
By: R.G. Robertson
Citation: Memorandum from R.G. Robertson to the Prime Minister (29 May 1975).
Other formats: Click here to view the original document (PDF).

Mr. Carter

May 29th, 1975.


Meeting with Mr. Bourassa on “patriation”
of the constitution

I had dinner in Quebec last night
with Mr.Bourassa and Julien Chouinard to discuss
your proposals about “patriation” of the constitution.
Mr. Bourassa arranged the meeting in this way and
with only the three of us present since he wants to
keep the fact of discussions very private at this
stage. Attached is a copy of a note I have made
about the meeting. It is rather full because I
thought it desirable to record a number of points of
importance that came up. In case you do not have time
to read it, the substance of Mr.Bourassa’s position
is as follows:

(a) He would like to see “patriation”
accomplished at as early a point as is feasible.
As he put it, “if we cannot do it when Pierre
is in Ottawa and I am here, we never can”.

(b) He thinks it will be imperative
for him to have some form of presentation of the
proposals for “ratification” by the Quebec
people. He thinks a referendum would be
extremely dangerous and would play into the
hands of the Parti Québécois. He thinks
he could contemplate having the plan as a part
of his program for an election conceivably in the
autumn of 1976 — along, of course, with other things.

(c) He thinks “patriation” plus the
amending formula will not be enough to make
the whole thing “saleable” in Quebec. He
repeated strongly the view he expressed to you on
April 9th that there will have to be some kind
of “constitutional guarantees”that the Quebec


people will regard as adequate protections for
their culture and way of life in a situation
where there may not be a strong French Canadian
force on the government side in Ottawa and in
which the proportion of the Quebec population in the total
population of Canada is diminishing.

(d) He sees elements of “guarantee” in
the Quebec veto in the amending formula and in ,
the Victoria proposals on the Supreme Court.
He does not think that the “language rights”
proposals of Victoria would be helpful or that
they can be modified in a way that would make
them helpful. He is interested in some kind of
preambular paragraph for the Governor General’s
proclamation. He wants, however, to see if
there could not be something more that would be
more substantive without getting into the
distribution of powers. (He realizes and
accepts that a ground rule of your proposal is that
we do not get into the distribution of powers.)

Before going to Quebec, we had done
some work here on “constitutional guarantees” and on the
“effect of preambular statements”. As you will see
from my note, I left a copy of each with Mr.Chouinard
in the hope that they might influence the Quebec
thinking. (A copy of each memorandum is attached
to my notes.)

The position is left that we will try to
do some further work here on a preambular paragraph and
Chouinard will try his hand at some sort of a
“substantive paragraph”.

Information to the other provinces

Messrs. Schreyer, Lougheed and Davis
all asked me to let them know what Mr. Bourassa’s
position is. I will certainly be asked the same
thing by the other English-speaking Premiers when I

see them. I accordingly asked Mr. Bourassa what I
could say. He said that I could say something to the
effect that he is interested in trying to see whether
we cannot accomplish “patriation” on the basis of the
Victoria amending formula (he did not suggest any need for
any change whatever in it) but that he is completely
certain that the situation in Quebec is such that the
“package” will have to include some kinds of “constitutional
guarantees” that would be regarded as effective to
protect the Quebec cultural situation in the future.
Mr. Bourassa added that if something could be worked
out of this kind, that you and he consider to be
acceptable, he is confident that he can sell it to the other
Premiers without it giving rise to any serious objections
or demands on their part. He feels that most of them
understand and are sympathetic to the minority position
of French Canada that Quebec reflects.

If you agree, I will write to Messrs.
Schreyer, Lougheed and Davis to say something along
the above lines in response to their request to me.
I will also use a formula of this kind in talking to
the other Premiers.

Mr. Bourassa is in complete agreement that
I should now go ahead to see the other Premiers as
you had proposed.


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