Premiers Conference, Notes for Remarks by Premier Allan Blakeney on the Signing of the Patriation Plan (16 April 1981)

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Date: 1981-04-16
By: Secretariat of the Conference, Allan Blakeney, Saskatchewan
Citation: Premiers Conference, Notes for Remarks by Premier Allan Blakeney on the Signing of the Patriation Plan, Doc 850-19/007 (Ottawa: 16 April 1981).
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I want to underscore the historic nature of this occasion.

What has taken place here today was said to be impossible. Eight Premiers have come together to demonstrate that Canadians are able and willing to resolve difference through a spirit of compromise and accommodation.

Eight Premiers, representing every region of Canada, are here today. Taking careful account of the needs of each province, and at the same time the requirements of the nation as a whole, we have been able to reach an agreement will command the broadest possible level of support across the country.

Henry Wise Wood, a distinguished Western Canadian and President of the United Farmers of Alberta, summed up the Canadian way in 1919 when he wrote that:

“True progress can come only as the result of thoughtful, continuous, co-operative effort. This progress will necessarily be slow, but it must be continuous. Nothing can hinder it more than the mistakes of thoughtless impatience”.

It is that cooperative ideal which we are reaffirming here today.

We in Saskatchewan believe in the basic strength of our federal system. We wish to maintain and strengthen the careful balance which has been achieved in this country over more than a century. That is why, after the Prime Minister announced his proposal to act unilaterally last October we continued to seek a consensus which would satisfy both the federal government and a large number of provinces.

In pursuing our course of negotiation, in seeking to go the extra mile, we were convinced that there had to be a third way, between the divisive unilateral action of the federal government and the obvious inadequacies of the status quo. We believed that a way could be to make the constitution a fully Canadian document and to do this by means which would untie Canadians, not divide them.

So we sought changes which we believed would attract broad support.

These efforts were not successful. They foundered on the determination by the federal government firstly to have an amending formula which used referendums controlled and managed by the federal government only and secondly to give the Canadian Senate a new and perpetual veto over constitutional reform — a proposal which went against all prior agreements.

So we failed to persuade the federal government to make changes to reach a broad consensus.

We then sought agreement with other provinces on a new approach to constitutional change — a made in Canada approach.

I have been uneasy about the way that the British Parliament is being asked to change the Canadian constitution. That doesn’t make too much sense. We asked ourselves — wouldn’t it be better to ask the British parliament to do nothing more than declare that they are no longer involved in Canadian affairs. Surely this would be best for Canada and best for Britain. Canadians using their own Parliament and their own Legislatures could affirm that our Constitution was patriated. And further changes could be made according to an agreed-upon amending formula.

That seemed to us to be the better approach. We have now agreed with seven other provinces to do just that. And we are asking the federal government and the two remaining provinces to join us in this made in Canada approach.

The amending formula we propose is a compromise. It is similar to one agreed to by all ten provinces last September but changed to meet some of the objections raised by the federal government at that time. I think in particular of the opting-out provision. This is fundamental to some provinces. But the federal government was worried about the possible “checkerboard” effect of such amendments. Seemingly irreconcilable views. And yet we have come up with a practical and reasonable compromise. This proposal allows opting out, but under such restrictions that it will occur only rarely. Not precisely what any one government wanted, but something we can all live with.

This amending formula is an improvement on the one in the federal resolution because it does not give an automatic veto to any single province. Each province, regardless of size, is given constitutional equality. We believe that this is closer to the spirit of Confederation.

This proposal also removes two of the most damaging features of the federal resolution: the referendum proposal and the perpetual Senate veto. Neither has been part of previous constitutional discussions, and neither had any significant support in the country.

Finally, I am particularly pleased that we have been able to add a provision for the delegation of legislative authority. It allows for a far more flexible constitutional arrangement than we have had under the B. N. A. Act, and satisfies a long-standing desire by governments, both provincial and federal.

What we have achieved is a flexible document, open to change but strong enough to protect the genuine interests of both the federal and provincial orders of government. I believe it will serve Canada well.

It is our responsibility now to engage in that final round of negotiations which will result in a patriation package acceptable to the whole Canadian community. With good will im sure it can be done. For the good of Canada I say it must be done.

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