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1982: Trudeau brings home the Constitution

He slid down banisters, dated movie stars and wore a red rose in his lapel. Pierre Elliott Trudeau is arguably the most charismatic prime minister in Canada's history. But he was more than just charisma – Trudeau helped shape Canada with his vision of a unified, bilingual, multicultural "just society." Throughout his 16 years as prime minister, he faced some heavy criticism. But when Trudeau died on Sept. 28, 2000, the nation mourned the man who, in the words of one biographer, "haunts us still."

Thanks to Pierre Trudeau's hard work and determination, the Constitution has made its long journey home after receiving endorsement from the British Parliament. Canada is at last a fully sovereign nation. Trudeau describes the Constitution and its new Charter of Rights and Freedoms as our defining touchstone. But, his comments are tempered by Quebec's marked rejection and he acknowledges the chasm that now exists. In this CBC live footage of the patriation ceremony, Trudeau and the Queen speak of Canada's limitless future. 
. Trudeau had been talking about "patriating" Canada's Constitution (which had formerly been held by Britain) and creating a constitutional declaration of rights since before he first became prime minister.
. "Patriate," a Canadian term, is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as "To bring (legislation) under the constitutional authority of the autonomous country to which it applies, used with reference to laws passed on behalf of that country by its former mother country."

. For a detailed history of Canada's Constitution from 1867 to 1964, see the topic Canada's Constitutional Debate: What Makes a Nation, and for more information on the patriation of the Constitution and the creation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, please see the topic Charting the Future: Canada's New Constitution. 

. All the premiers except for Quebec's René Lévesque had agreed upon Trudeau's constitutional reform resolution. On the day of the proclamation ceremony, Lévesque ordered the Quebec flag to be flown at half-mast.
. "Today I have proclaimed this new Constitution, one that is truly Canadian at last. There could be no better moment for me as Queen of Canada to declare again my unbounded confidence in the future of this wonderful country." The Queen at the proclamation ceremony, April 17, 1982.

. In the 1998 collection of essays Trudeau's Shadow: The Life and Legacy of Pierre Trudeau, law professor Lorraine E. Weinrib called the Charter of Rights and Freedoms "Trudeau's greatest political achievement and his most important political legacy." She said Trudeau worked so hard for constitutional reform because it "was his personal project." And the timing was finally right in 1982, she wrote, as the project had at last "captured the imagination of Canadians."

. In Trudeau's Shadow, historian Michael Bliss wrote that by 1990, the Charter "had become a revered Canadian institution. The Canadian Charter was being studied around the world as a milestone in human rights legislation."
. The Charter isn't without its critics, however. Some detractors say it has shifted legislative power to the courts, which has rendered Parliament decisively less effective.

. The May 20, 1980, Quebec Referendum was another highlight of Trudeau's final term in office. (For more on the referendum, see the topic A la prochaine fois: The 1980 Quebec Referendum).   A fierce opponent of Quebec separation, Trudeau was very happy that the 59.6 per cent of Quebec said No to separation while 40.4 per cent said Yes. "Never have I felt so proud to be a Quebecer and a Canadian," he told Canada that night.

.During his final term, Trudeau also instituted the National Energy Program (NEP) in 1980. (See the topic Striking Oil in Alberta).  Created in the wake of the 1970s' energy crises, the NEP had three main objectives: To boost Canadian ownership in the oil industry, to make the country a self-sufficient oil producer and to increase the federal share of energy revenue. As part of the program, Trudeau launched a tax to fund the federal government's gas company Petro-Canada and gave grants to Canadian-owned oil companies.

. The Western provinces, particularly Alberta, were furious about the NEP. Many Albertans believed that federal government was intruding on provincial matters, and believed the program was designed to make the province less wealthy. There were popular bumper stickers in Alberta at the time that read: "Let the Eastern bastards freeze in the dark." Deep resentment of Trudeau over the NEP lasted for years in the West.
Medium: Television
Program: CBC Television News Special
Broadcast Date: April 17, 1982
Guest(s): Queen Elizabeth, Pierre Elliott Trudeau
Host: Peter Mansbridge
Duration: 20:20

Last updated: November 22, 2012

Page consulted on April 15, 2013

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