Constitutional Conference, Opening Statement of the Province of British Columbia (14-16 June 1971)
By: W.A.C. Bennett (British Columbia)
Citation: Constitutional Conference, Opening Statement of the Province of British Columbia (Victoria: 14-16 June 1971).
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Opening Statement of the
Province of British Columbia
to the Constitutional Conference
VICTORIA, JUNE 14 TO 16, 1971
THE HONOURABLE W.A.C. BENNETT, P.C.
Premier and Minister of Finance of British Columbia
PRESENT ON BEHALF OF THE PROVINCE OF BRITISH COLUMBIA
HON. W.A.C. BENNETT, P.C.
Premier and Minister of Finance
HON. L.R. PETERSON, Q.C.
HON. W.D. BLACK
Provincial Secretary and
Minister of Highways
HON. R.G. WILLISTON
Minister of Lands, Forests, and
HON. C.M. SHELFORD
Minister of Agriculture
HON. F.X. RICHTER
Minister of Mines and Petroleum Resources,
and Minister of Commercial Transport
HON. W.M. SKILLINGS
Minister of Industrial Development, Trade,
HON. D.L. BROTHERS, Q.C.
Minister of Education
HON. D.R.J. CAMPBELL
Minister of Municipal Affairs
HON. R.R. LOFFMARK, Q.C.
Minister of Health Services and Hospital
HON. W.N. CHANT
Minister of Public Works
HON. W.K. KIERNAN
Minister of Recreation and Conservation,
and Minister of Travel Industry
HON. P.A. GAGLARDI
Minister of Rehabilitation and Social
HON. J. CHABOT
Minister of Labour
MR. G.S. BRYSON
Deputy Minister of Finance
DR. G.D. KENNEDY, Q.C.
MR. L.J. WALLACE
Deputy to the Premier
MR. M.H. SMITH
Director, Administrative and
MR. H.G. FERGUSON
Department of Finance
MR. R.I. CHEFFINS
Professor of Political Science and Public Law
University of Victoria
HON. ISABEL P. DAWSON
Minister Without Portfolio
HON. PATRICIA J. JORDAN
Minister Without Portfolio
HON. W.H. MURRAY
Speaker, Legislative Assembly
HON. GRACE MCCARTHY
Minister Without Portfolio
MR. DAVID BARRETT, M.L.A.
Leader of the Opposition
MR. PAT MCGEER, M.L.A.
Leader of the Provincial Liberal Party
It is indeed a happy privilege for me to extend to you, Mr. Prime Minister, and to each of you, my fellow Premiers, a very warm welcome to Victoria to this significant Federal-Provincial Conference. It is particularly fitting that we are meeting in the capital city of British Columbia during the Province’s Centennial in the Canadian Confederation.
On July 20, 1871, British Columbia, then 22 years old, united with the five other provinces of Canada, assuring a nation “from sea to sea.” Thus, united together by a common bond yet with a diversity of cultures and ethnic origins, we joined with the people of Canada in the march to nationhood.
British Columbia brought into Confederation a vast bountiful land of 366,000 square miles, almost equivalent to the combined area of the other five provinces of Canada at the time, but sparsely settled by less than 40,000 people. That number has more than grown in pace with the rest of Canada, so that as our population at the present time reaches the 2 1/4 million mark, we are the fastest growing Province in the nation.
Although proud of our history, we recognize the shortness of its years. We are pausing to commemorate the people and their achievements over this relatively short period of time as an inspiration to move forward into the future.
While Canada’s growth and development during most of this first 100 years was Atlantic-oriented, the Pacific region holds the promise of even more outstanding performance in our second century. Already Japan is the second-largest foreign market for British Columbia products, with more than a tenfold increase in the last decade, which now represents one-half of Canada’s trade with that country. Our trade opportunities with the Pacific Rim countries remain virtually untapped. Our wealth of natural resources and broadening base of secondary manufacture in which we can compete on world markets
offers the promise of growth for this nation in the next 100 years far beyond anything experienced to date.
We want you to rejoice with us during these days–rejoice for the heritage of our past and the great prospects for our nation in the future.
2. THE CONSTITUTIONAL REVIEW
This is the seventh meeting of the leaders of the Federal and Provincial Governments in the current series of Constitutional Conferences which commenced in February 1968. British Columbia has taken an active part throughout these discussions.
At these conferences, British Columbia has emphasized that the Constitution is not the number one priority facing this country. If that was the case in February 1968 when the constitutional review began, how much more is it the case now in June 1971, considering the deterioration in the economy and the worsening employment situation that has taken place in that short period of time. For example. in just over three years the number of unemployed in Canada has increased from 464,000 to 659,000,* an increase of 42 per cent.
*Source: D.B.S. The Labour Force, April 1971.
British Columbia has continually stressed the danger of high interest rates, tight money, the high level of the Canadian dollar and deficit government financing upon the continued prosperity of the Canadian economy and particularly their threat of increased unemployment.
Mr. Prime Minister, the provision of jobs is the most urgent need confronting the nation today. The preservation of our natural environment and pollution control are also matters of high priority, and particularly important is the provision of a healthy moral environment in which our yong people can grow to maturity.
The employment situation and the general state of the economy cannot be divorced from considerations of the Constitution. For, in the final analysis, it is the policies of governments and the attitude of the people, not the cold language of the Constitution, that shapes the character of the nation and determines its destiny.
We are met together today to concern ourselves with the future of our country. Our task is made all the more difficult by our federal system of government, the most difficult of all political structures.
A few years ago the term “co-operative federalism” was in vogue. Today the term “profitable federalism” is appropriate to describe the treatment received by some provinces. British Columbia asks not for special treatment, but does expect to receive fair treatment at the hands of the Federal Government. Two examples illustrate that British Columbia is not being fairly treated:
(1) Equalization Payments
Mr. Prime Minister, the Province has in the past continues to be unalterably opposed to equalization payments to Provincial Governments. Started in 1957 principally as fiscal support to the economically weak and natural resource-poor Atlantic region, British Columbia is alarmed at the massive equalization payments made today to certain provinces, particularly to the resource-rich, central Province of Quebec. It is reported that, over the three latest years, equalization payments and contributions to certain special programmes paid by the Federal Government to the Province of Quebec have increased from $440 million to $773 million.
Equalization payments to Provincial Governments have not brought about any comparable improvement in raising the standard of living of those Canadians whose incomes fall below the national average.
What is needed is to raise the income of persons of low income, wherever they may live in Canada, by direct payment to persons by a guaranteed annual income through the use of the negative income tax in lieu of the vast complexity of present welfare programmes. This would act as a catalyst to the initiative of persons of low income to develop their skills and improve their lot by their own efforts. This fiscal transfusion at the individual’s level would not only benefit the economies of the poorer regions to the greatest extent but the revenues of Provincial Governments within those regions would be directly and dramatically increased.
British Columbia calls for the abolition of equalization payments to Provincial Governments and advocates a revision to the Constitution, if necessary, to provide for a nationally administered guaranteed annual income in the place of present welfare programmes and equalization payments, with any balance required financed from corporate and personal income tax revenues.
Equalization payments in their present form are seriously undermining the Canadian Confederation.
(2) Regional Economic Development Programmes
The Federal Government’s regional economic development programme is another illustration where British Columbia is not being treated fairly. The assumption which appears to underlie current Federal Government policy is that one region of Canada must be discouraged from growing faster than any other part of the country. Such assumptions make little economic sense.
Through its regional economic development programmes, the Federal Government is spending in excess of one billion dollars to encourage unsound development in some areas which for various reasons will never be self-supporting. British Columbia receives virtually none of these payments, yet its industries have to compete with Federal Government subsidized industries in other provinces. The Federal Government must recognize that growth in the economically dynamic regions of Canada is essential to generate the wealth necessary to assit the people of the slower economic growth areas. Moreover, the greatest tax benefit from such economic growth accrues to the Federal Government.
Present Federal policies such as those I have mentioned discriminate against British Columbia and make viable federalism difficult. I would point out that only a change in Federal Government policies is necessary to alter these inequities.
While British Columbia is prepared to direct its attention once again to appropriate constitutional changes, we continue to take the view that our Constitution of 104 years, as amended from time to time, has
served us remarkably well. It has proved to be a living, flexible document capable of adapting to changing needs and of coping with the growing-pains of nationhood. In a country as diverse as Canada, constitutional flexibility is essential. It is not possible, nor is it desirable, to legislate uniformity through constitutional provisions.
British Columbia has from the outset of the Constitutional review stressed the importance of reaching agreement on an appropriate amending formula coupled with patriation, and was encouraged by the formula that was committed to writing and agreed to at our meeting in February.
Some of the other Constitutional proposals put forward in February, British Columbia reluctantly agreed to, so as to accomodate other points of view in a spirit of good will and understanding. Still others put forward in February were not acceptable to British Columbia for the reasons given.
British Columbia has been encouraged by the progress made at bilateral discussions held since February, both in Victoria and Ottawa.
I sense, gentlemen, that after a slow beginning, the Constitutional Review at this point in time has reached its peak. The challenge presents itself to us today. Let us be realistic and recognize that every government’s total constitutional demands on all subjects cannot be met at this meeting. British Columbia is opposed to “package deals,” for agreements conceived in that way usually do not last. Let us proceed with those matters on which we all can agree and leave for future discussion those matters on which we cannot now obtain agreement.
If that were done, we could then devote our full attention to the very serious problems about which I spoke earlier. If that were done, then with the great potential of our land and all its peoples, we could unitedly go on to build a better and greater Canada.