Memorandum from R.G. Robertson with Prime Minister’s comments [The Present State of the “Patriation” Exercise] to Mr. Hurley (17 September 1975)
By: R.G. Robertson (with comments by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau)
Citation: Memorandum from R.G. Robertson with Prime Minister’s comments to Mr. Hurley (17 September 1975).
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Bureau des relations
Would you please return the
attached after you have
seen the Prime Minister’s
comments. We have been
keeping the originals of all
memos sent to the PM.
September 8, 1975.
MEMORANDUM FOR THE PRIME MINISTER
The Present State of the
I asked James Hurley of this office to pull
together the developments there have been in recent
months, and particularly in the last few weeks, in
connection with our operations on “patriation” of the
Constitution. He has done a very good memorandum and
you may find it helpful to read it exactly as he has
sent it to me. The original is attached herewith.
In section A (Chronology of negotiations)
the only thing that has not previously been reported
to you is the result of my talk with Premier Blakeney
which took place on August 7th. The only Premier I
have not now seen is Premier Barrett and a question
is whether I should try once more to see him (I have
already made two efforts without success). The reason
for some doubt is the position taken by the Premiers at
their conference in St. John’s on August 21st and 22nd
(se page 5 of the memorandum). The communiqué is a
bit ambiguous but it sounds as though they agreed that
a conclusion with regard to “patriation” should be
deferred until some time after their 1976 meeting, and
that at that time it should be dealt with “in the
context of a general review of the distribution of
powers” and other related matters. Our observers
were excluded from the meeting at which they discussed
this question, as you will have noted from Mr. Haney’s
So far as Quebec is concerned, the position
is well covered in Hurley’s memorandum, starting on
page 7. Following our last discussion, I talked to
Julien Chouinard on the telephone and he asked me to
send him the draft material we had prepared for the
preamble to the Governor General’s proclamation.
I did that on August 12th, and, since I had not heard
anything further from him before Mr. Bourassa’s state-
ment at Mont Gabriel, I phoned Chouinard again after
that. He told me that Mr. Bourassa had studied our
drafts very closely but was firmly of the view that
they were not adequate for his purposes. Apparently
he specifically referred to the lack of any reference
to “culture”, and he also said that the preamble, as
it stood in our draft, would not have any operative
effect to prevent such things as an unfriendly federal
government (CRTTC plus CBC) establishing “three English
language television stations” in Quebec without
consulting the Government of Quebec or the Government
of Quebec being able to do anything to prevent it.
Chouinard said that Mr. Bourassa’s statement at Mont
Gabriel was very carefulIy considered and it represents
what he thinks he needs. A copy of his statement is
attached together with the transcript of the press
conference that he gave after it.
Mr. Bourassa’s Position
Pages 3 to 4 of Mr. Bourassa’s statement are
relevant. The third paragraph on page 4 reflects the
position we had understood from his comments in April
and May. The problem is what he means in his fourth
paragraph about “the power and the means to decide
finally about questions which concern the protection
and the development of its (Quebec’s) language and
culture”. Mr. Bourassa’s comment about “three English
language television stations” would suggest that what
he has in mind is positive powers “to prevent” action
that would be harmful to language and culture.
In the transcript of the press conference I
have marked the most relevant parts on pages 5, 9,
and 13. All of these comments appear to be consistent
with a request for powers “to prevent”, although the
comment on page 9 is more general.
Questions for Decision
I think the questions that require early
decision are the following:
(a) Should I try to see Mr. Barrett at an
I think probably I should, if only to
complete the round. I am skeptical
Howeverkwhefher I will get anywhere at
all, particularly in the light of the
St. John’s communiqué.
(b) Should I try to see Mr. Bourassa and,
if so, what position should I take with
him? would it be preferable for you
to see Mr. Bourassa?
It might be possible to get some clarifica-
tion of what it is Mr. Bourassa really is
wanting, but obviously an immediate question
would be whether the federal government
would be prepared to go further than the
draft preambles that we have sent.
Hurley’s suggestions are relevant in this
If we were to go further than the drafts
now do, possibilities in ascending order
of significance would be to insert a
reference to culture; to have some
reference to communications and immigra-
tion, with a commitment to consult the
Government of Quebec about matters of
importance to it; or to have such a
reference plus a substantive power by
the Government of Quebec to prevent
defined categories of action in the field
of communications and immigration that
could damage the French language and
culture in Quebec.
(c) Should there be any alteration in strategy
in the light of the developments in the
last couple of weeks?
Possible courses would be:
(i) To carry on, trying to get agreement
with Mr. Bourassa and to determine
Mr. Barrett’s position, hoping to
move ahead to agreed action in 1976.
This would obviously depend on being
able to get an accommodation with
Mr. Bourassa. If that could be
achieved the other Premiers might
perhaps be prepared to withdraw from
the position they took at St. John’s.
(ii) To make some further effort at agree-
ment with Mr. Bourassa, and failing it,
to go ahead with our “fall back”
In the light of the consensus at
St. John’s, this would probably be
very sharply criticized by the Premiers.
They would be able to say that they had
indicated agreement on the desirability
of “patriation”; that they had
specifically agreed that Mr. Moores
should “canvass” the provinces to get
their detailed views; and that they
were clearly contemplating further
discussion after the 1976 conference
with a view to further action.
(iii) To slow down the operation and accept
a delay until l977.
In considering the possible wisdom of
this course, you might be interested
in comments I have had in the last ten
days from two prominent French Canadians
— the Governor General and the Honourable
Claude Castonguay. The Governor General
asked me about the “patriation” exercise
and I told him of the problems that
had arisen with Mr. Bourassa.
He said he thought that we should
consider that Mr. Bourassa may well
be in so tight a position before the
Olympics, and possibly shaping up to
a 1976 election, that it will be very
hard, if not impossible, for him to
be very flexible in the next few
The conversation with Castonguay took
place when I chaired a panel in which
he participated at the meeting of the
Institute of Public Administration of
Canada. He referred to the way it
had been possible some months after
Victoria to “cool” the issue on social
policy and get away from confrontation.
He suggested that with a little time
it might be possible to “cool” the
issue on communications and to get
more room to manoeuvre on language and
It would be most helpful if you could find a
few moments in which I could discuss the position with
you as you see it. It seems to me that it would be
unwise for me to make any further move in my own round
of discussions without knowing more about the way you
see the issue and the alternatives.