Constitutional Conference, Press Release, Prime Minister’s Statement Opening of the Victoria Conference (14-16 June 1971)

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Date: 1971-06-14
By: Pierre Trudeau (Prime Minister’s Office)
Citation: Constitutional Conference, Press Release, Prime Minister’s Statement Opening of the Victoria Conference (Victoria: 14-16 June 1971).
Other formats: Click here to view the original document (PDF).


Date: For Release:
June 14, 1971 Not before
ime Minister speak


We are here in Victoria not simply to take advantage
of the magnificent scenery, generous hospitality or pleasant
climate of Canada’s Pacific Coast, nor only as tribute to the
100th anniversary of the entry into Confederation of British
Columbia, happy though we are with each of those. We are here
in this provincial capital as evidence that in Canada Our
constitutional structure is federal, that in Canada the ten
provinces and their governments are a vitally important and integral
part of our political structure. Our presence here reminds us as
well that the work so boldly commenced in the Atlantic city of
Charlottetown in 1864 remains as yet unfinished. There could be
no finer place to complete a part of that unfinished work than
on this island, a continent distant from Prince Edward Island,
for that distance vindicates the optimism of the Fathers of
Confederation and is proof of their dream of a united Canada
from sea to sea.
May I first of all, therefore, express our warm
thanks to Prime Minister Bennett whose generous invitation enables
us to be here. We rejoice with all British Columbians in their
Centennial. We share their confidence in their province’s
great future. We thank them for their hospitable reception.

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Joining us today for the first time in these
proceedings as a first minister is Prime Minister Davis of ‘
Ontario. He may be a newcomer to this table in his new
capacity, but he is by no means a newcomer to constitutional
discussions or constitutional conferences. I bid him welcome
on behalf of all of you.
The unfinished task –
One part of our task today is with us because
Canada blazed a trail that many former colonies, now independent
countries, have since followed. Canada was the first part of
the then British Empire that achieved the status that grew into
the complete independence of today. The other British colonies
that much later achieved independence profited by our experience.
They were set up in the world complete — able to manage and to
amend their own constitutions. The Fathers of Confederation at
Charlottetown and at Quebec, were men of courage, imagination
and resource. But neither they nor the British legislators of
that day could be expected to have foreseen the way in which
complete independence wddd come to Canada more than half a
century later. Because of that they did not include in our
constitution a way to amend it in Canada. And so today, a century
later, we cannot change in Canada the fundamental aspects of
our constitution. Australia can. New Zealand can. India,
Nigeria, Jamaica – all these former British colonies, now inde-
pendent, can amend their own constitutions in entirety, but
we cannot. We Canadians, who led the way, must go to the British
Parliament to implement our decision.

The Constitutional Work
It was not, however, just to arrive at an amending
procedure that the constitutional discussions of the last three
vears were undertaken. At the first conference in February, 1968

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chaired by my predecessor in office, Mr. Pearson, it was agreed
to embark on a comprehensive review of the Constitution. Since
that Conference fundamental questions have been examined in six
sessions of First Ministers, many sessions of Ministers on
special subjects, and some two dozen meetings of officials.
Important measures of agreement have been reached on several
aspects of our constitution. Altogether, more work has been
carried out and moro_insight gained into the problems and the
complexities of our federalism than in any other period since
February 1971 Conference and since
Our session in February 1971 indicated wide agreement
with respect to a number of matters of substance in the
constitution. There was agreement on what might be a feasible
approach to a formula for amending the constitution.
The February Conference also discussed social policy
and expressed its sympathy with the objective of meeting the
problem of poverty effectively by having a broad, integrated
pOllCy for income security measures. We agreed to discuss this
matter, and its constitutional implications, at our meeting in
Since February, we have all been actively involved
in expressing the conclusions of that meeting in the form of
constitutional texts. As a result, the drafts before this
Conference are not the work of any one government but of all
governments. They are built upon the foundation of our discussions
over the past three years and would not have been possible
without the understanding gained by governments as a result of
those discussions.

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Social Policy
An important issue before this conference is
Quebec’s proposal that provincial legislatures should have the
power to limit the authority of Parliament to make income security
payments such as old age pensions and family allowances within
their province. By the present system of income security
payments, Parliament transfers billions of dollars a year to the
old, the poor, the unemployed and families with children, from
taxpayers and contributors who have the ability to pay. This
federal redistribution is particularly important to poor people
in those parts of Canada where opportunities and incomes are less
than average -— and that includes seven of our can provinces.
If, as the government of Quebec proposes, provincial laws could
nullify federal income security laws in a province, and divert
the federal revenue through the provincial treasury to be spent
as the provincial government decided, then provincial governments
would have a strong inducement to have such laws. But Parliament
in those circumstances would be less likely to impose taxes
on Canadians generally to make payments to provincial governments
than it would to make payments directly to the needy old peOple
and families with children. Taxpayers would be less prepared to
pay taxes to the federal government for programs controlled by
provincial governments other than their own,than to support prograns
by the federal parliament which they themselves elect. Conse-
quently, the constitutional change proposed by Quebec would, over
the years, lead to an erosion of federal income security programs
and their replacement by purely provincial plans. “he old and
the poor in the wealthier provinces might do as well in such
circumstances as if the federal government were making the payments
but in the other provinces including Quebec, the tax base would not
support as good income security payments as Parliament could
provide. The federal government is not taking a negative attitude

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with regard to chanqe – either 1n programs or in constitution.
It must, however, consider the factors to which I have referred
as we examine the changes that may be desirable in our
Cons ti tu tion .
The Goal of the Victoria Conference
As we meet here in Victoria, one hundred and four
years after the Canadian federation came into being, we must not
be unaware of the historic importance of what we can do – or
fail to do.
I spoke of the unfinished work of Charlottetown and
Quebec: the omission to provide a means of amending our Constitu-
tion entirely in Canada and of making it totally Canadian.
Efforts to work out an amending procedure of our
own began with a Federal-Provincial Conference in 1927 – 44 years
ago. That effort failed. The effort was renewed at a further
Conference in 1935. It failed too. After the War we started
once more at the task with conferences in 1950, in 1960-61 and
in 1964. Every effort ended in failure. After nearly half a
century of trying and of failing Canada remains unique – the only
independent country in the world that cannot amend its own
constitution. I think it is incumbent on us that we do not
fail again. If we do, the country will go on, but it may be long
before we find another occasion when we, or First Ministers who
come after us, can succeed. The problem is not insoluble – and
we are close to solution. An amending formula, fairly conceived,
lS not the end to constitutional change or a block on future
progress. It is the means to change and the way to ensure that we
can progress in the years ahead. But additionally it is the
means of removing, once and for all, the last remnant of a
condition that is not worthy of Canada as a free and independent
country. .

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we have before us the other important matters
decided on in February. There too, with wisdom and statesmanship,
we can succeed. During the next three days, we shall strive
to reach agreement on the writing into the constitution of certain
as well as linguistic rights;
fundamental political rights / a constitutionally guaranteed
Supreme Court of Canada; a declaration of principle that govern-
ments are committed to promote equality of opportunity and
to reduce regional disparities in all parts of Canada; and a
constitutional requirement for closer federal—proyincial cooperation
Altogether we will be dealing with six of the seven items
originally singled out for special consideration by the first
meeting of the Constitutional Conference back in February, 1968.
we shall also be searching for the best means of developing and
integrating social policy so that the battle against poverty may
be waged more effectively with redistribution of income to help
the less fortunate, while at the same time maintaining national
standards of income security, but a high degree of flexibility to
meet particular provincial needs.
All of these are great questions and call for great
endeavour. They form a part of our major task of total constitu-
tional review. I have said it is a formidable undertaking.
Behind us we have the traditions, the problems and the adjustments
of a century of living together. With us today we have the
tensions, not only of a time of great and rapid change, but of
achieving a new balance in which all the parts and people of Canada
will feel a sense of equal justice and of rich fulfilment within
our Confederation. Before us we have the most glowing prospects
of any country in the world. with a stable society, a strong
economy, rich resources, an educated and tolerant people, and with
political institutions that are basically sound as the foundation
of our political freedom, the second century of our existence
as an independent state is alive with promise. To make that
promise real, with a united Canada framed within a constitutional
structure acceptable to all Canadians, is the goal for which we
work today.

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