- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 22 Oct 1964, p. 45-53
- Balcer, The Honourable Leon, Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- The repatriation of the Constitution as a progressive move and an important step in the history of Canada. The power to amend the Constitution. Bringing the Constitution up to date through a long series of federal-provincial meetings. Securing the agreement of all the provinces to the Favreau formula. Repercussions of the Constitution, as amended. Concerns over the shift of power from the federal to the provincial governments, through the Favreau formula. The speaker's feeling that this shift is inevitable, even necessary at the present time. Meeting some of Quebec's present requests. Examples of advantages to such a shift of power to the provinces. Some remarks on the Constitution of a country and what it should be. The logic of a complete redrafting of Canada's Constitution. The suggestion of a Royal Commission and what its terms of reference might be. Modernizing the Constitution and why that should be done. A new Constitution that would go a long way to promote national unity, respect and friendship between Canada's two cultural groups.
- Date of Original
- 22 Oct 1964
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- Full Text
- OCTOBER 22, 1964
The Repatriation of Our Constitution
AN ADDRESS BY The Honourable Leon Balcer, DEPUTY LEADER PROGRESSIVE CONSERVATIVE PARTY OF CANADA
CHAIRMAN, The Second Vice-President, Mr. R. Bredin Stapells
The Dominion general election of June 27, 1949, increased the strength of the Progressive Conservative Party in the Province of Quebec by 100 per cent from one to two. The constituents of Trois-Rivieres had sent a 31-year-old lawyer to represent them in Ottawa.
The Party gathered strength in 1953 with 4 members, in 1957 with 9 and the pinnacle of the Party's success in Quebec since 1867-a resounding 50-member group in 1958. Then came the contraction to 14 in 1962 and 8 in 1963. After each election, M. Balcer still represented his fellow Canadians of Trois-Rivieres.
The first French-speaking president of the Young Progressive Conservatives, a past president of the National Party, former Cabinet Minister and now Deputy Leader of the Party and its French-speaking leader, M. Balcer has always been an organizer of difficult causes. Now, he is faced with building a successful Party organization in his province at a critical time in the history of the Canadian nation.
A Cabinet Minister who gave us Torontonians Malton's round airport, a Conservative who painted red maple leaves on the funnels of Canada's new coastguard ships and an important Canadian, may I present to you The Honourable Leon Balcer, Q.C., P.c., Deputy Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada.
THE HON. LEON BALCER:
Last week, in Ottawa, following a meeting of the Attorneys General of the federal and provincial Governments of Canada, the Prime Minister and the provin cial Premiers reached a very important decision. This decision was the conclusion of a very long series of studies, meetings of officials and federal-provincial Conferences that had been going on for a number of years, and the Press of the country the next day carried big headlines applauding at last, "The Repatriation of the Constitution". There is no doubt about it, it is a progressive move and an important step in the history of our country.
Canada was probably the only major independent country in the world which had to depend on the Parliament of another country, not only for the power to amend this Con stitution, but in fact to carry out the most insignificant amendment.
Of course, in practice, Westminster was always agreeable, without any discussion, to any joint address of our Parliament requesting the British Parliament to make the various amendments that have been passed in recent years. But still, in the eyes of the majority of Canadians, it was a humiliating experience which did not fit with the concept of a Sovereign State. So, I think it is natural that most Canadians have read with great satisfaction the communiqué issued at the end of last week's federal-provincial Conference.
But already, and it is only a few days since those events, great reservations are being expressed in the House of Commons and in many editorials.
The Member for Greenwood, Mr. Andrew Brewin, went as far as to say that in the opinion of the New Democratic Party, the occasion of the repatriation of the Canadian Constitution should not be one of national rejoicing but rather one of national mourning. I certainly do not agree with such a discouraging expression, but there is no doubt that we are now faced with a very complicated formula.
We will have the power in Canada to amend our Constitution, but this Constitution will have to be amended and brought up to date by a long series of federal-provincial meetings. We are running a great risk of Government by federal-provincial Conferences.
In order to secure the agreement of all the provinces to the Favreau formula, many concessions had to be made and a veto was given to the provinces in many spheres and this resulted in making this Constitution a very rigid and inflexible document.
Of course, this afternoon, I do not intend to discuss the relative merit of the Favreau proposal. It will be discussed at length in the House of Commons in the very near future.
Some of my colleagues in the House of Commons already have expressed their views to the effect that this Constitution, as amended, has placed our country in a strait jacket. Others have strong reservations over the fact that the Favreau formula will result in a shift of power from the federal Government to the provinces.
Personally, I agree it might have this result, but however I am not at all disturbed by such a shift in power. I feel that this is inevitable and even necessary at the present time. It is my opinion that this will go a long way towards meeting some of Quebec's present requests. As you are aware, there is a.definite feeling of uneasiness in my province and many of our public men feel that a realignment of priorities between the federal and provincial Governments will permit the provincial Government to meet its ever increasing responsibilities.
As an example, I could mention the field of education. I think every Canadian today will agree that education should have top priority and should be met whatever the price. Now that we will have the power to change our Constitution, I think we will be witness to a long tug of war between the federal Government and the provinces and when I consider how uninspiring and unreadable a document our Constitution is in its present form, I am afraid that the annual edition of new amendments and sub-amendments will make it absolutely unpalatable.
Canada is like a man who owns a model-T Ford of 1926 vintage. The model-T Ford in 1926 was a marvellous piece of engineering and it was even revolutionary for this time of history. It should be admired for that, but if that man has to go to Montreal from here and he uses his model-T Ford, he might get there, but he will certainly not get there rapidly and it will certainly not be an efficient way to travel at this time.
It is the same thing with our Constitution -it was a wonderful piece of legislation in 1867 and our Fathers of Confederation should be congratulated for their vision. However, one hundred years later this piece of legislation is as outmoded as this model-T Ford even if many repairs and patchwork have been done to the original. I sincerely think that the time has come for a modern country like Canada to have a brand new Constitution that will be really the expression of Canada 1964. After all, many countries recently have done it successfully-it is certainly not an impossible task and it is certainly a necessity.
The Constitution of a country should be an inspiration for all its citizens. The children should be able to learn it by heart at school. It should be an organic document with a proper preamble expressing the goals of our country, including a Bill of Rights applicable to all citizens and an operative section that takes into account our federative system and the fact that we are a country which is composed of two founding races of different language and religion.
Maybe all Americans do not know the whole text of their Constitution, but for an American, the Constitution is first of all the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, and these, every child and every adult knows by heart.
I think everyone will see the logic of a complete redrafting of our Constitution, if he considers that when it was first enacted, Canada consisted of only four provinces and all the land west of the Great Lakes was not even included or mentioned.
Compare the dirt roads of 1867 with your 401 Highway. Automobiles could not even be imagined, let alone aviation, radio, T.V. satellites.
Of course, through the years there have been many amendments, but the original draft has been kept, with the result that, at the present time, our Constitution consists of approximately twenty acts passed by the Parliament of another country.
With the decision of last week, changes or further amendments will be made at a series of Federal-Provincial Conferences where the Prime Ministers and the Premiers, who are all harassed statesmen, will be expected to make most involved decisions in a matter of hours, under pressures of political life.
I would suggest instead a Royal Commission. Some of you might say that our Governments have overdone the use of Royal Commissions, but I think the importance of the subject would justify this one. The members of such a Commission would be named both by the federal and provincial Governments. They could be chosen amongst the best constitutional experts, constitutional lawyers, historians and economists of the country, representing the cultural and regional sections of Canada. It is no use hiding the facts-at the present time our Confederation is sick. In my own province, we are going through a social revolution. Various and very often, opposite schools of thought are trying to marshall public opinion. I think it would be a very useful forum for these associations.
The concept of Confederation must of course be retained -it provides stability and continuity of government and policy in those affairs, which are of mutual concern, while retaining a large degree of independence and unilateral action in those matters which are of local or regional concern. This must be clearly stated in the terms of reference of this Royal Commission on the Constitution.
The five main considerations which should determine the nature and the form of Governments are the nationality, the geography, the economy, the foreign relations and the phi losophy of a country. All five command a federal form of government for Canada.
I think I am expressing the wishes of many of my fellow Quebeckers, when I state that we should revise and modernize the only fundamental document that can really determine the limits of the responsibilities of the various Governments. This document should have the natural character of a constitution; it should be a declaration of principles on the source of governmental power, on the rights of the citizens, on the limits of the rights of the State. This document should be rid of obsolete texts present in the BNA Act that are useless, have no historical values and cannot inspire anything but embarrassment. We must make sure that a new Constitution would be flexible enough to meet present and future Canadian situations. Also, we must make sure to guarantee in anew document the equality in status of the two main cultural groups and of their institutions, religion and language, and partnership between and amongst the provinces in respect to their relationship with each other. This concept of Confederation must be brought up to dateit is absolutely necessary. How can you modernize this concept to meet the aspirations of all Canadians in the Canada of today and of the next decade while insisting on retaining a form which is not in keeping with our status as a great country with great responsibilities in the domestic, as well as in the foreign field? This new document can be a beautiful and inspiring national asset. It could be preceded by a preamble describing the goals of our people and it should contain the Bill of Rights made applicable to all of Canada and not restricted, as it is at the present time, to federal jurisdiction.
I said that our new Constitution should be an inspiring national asset. To prove this feasibility, I would like to direct your attention to a proposal of a preamble made by a French-Canadian scholar and business leader, Mr. Marcel Faribeault, at the recent Conference on Canadian Goals at Fredericton. In this preamble, the people of Canada first recognize the authority of God as supreme legislator-then, under a federal Constitution, the pursuit of peace and prosperity through respect for autonomy and common interest; their faith in democratic institutions; their confidence in the principles of equality, liberty and fraternity. And in this preamble, after stating the rights and responsibilities of the various federal and provincial Governments, it recognizes the symbols of Canada and declares as official federal languages, English and French. It ends with the recognition of the Monarchy and its role in the constitutionality of Canada.
This is a crude résumé of Mr. Faribeault's suggestion, but it was certainly received with a great enthusiasm by all those present at the Conference.
Mr. Chairman, I am an optimist in the future of Canada, and I think that a new Constitution, essentially Canadian, and: expressing the goals and aspirations of our people, would go a long way to promote national unity, respect and friendship between our two cultural groups.
Thanks of this meeting were expressed by Mr. Donald H. Jupp, a Past President of the Empire Club.