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A Time for Action

It was a hard-fought coming of age for Canada. From the 1960s through the early 1980s, Canadian politicians argued fiercely at the constitutional bargaining table over the balance of provincial and federal power. In the end, Canada gained a Charter of Rights and Freedoms and a homemade Constitution. But it would not be without its costs as the question of Quebec's status in Canada loomed larger than ever.

To Trudeau's bemused critics, his latest initiative is an obvious punchline, rife with Canadian irony but short on humour.
Q: What does the prime minister do when faced with a constitutional impasse and frustrated politicians?
A: He waits and then writes a white paper. And, ironically enough, he titles it A Time for Action.

Two years earlier, in 1976, the prime minister first hinted that the federalists were tempted to move ahead on their own. Now he's announced that he's planning on making good on his promise; the federal government intends to proceed with the patriation of the constitution unilaterally. In this CBC Television clip, premiers express their outrage with Trudeau's decision. Quebec premier René Lévesque sharply dismisses the paper as "profoundly insignificant."
. Trudeau envisaged an overhaul of the Constitution in two phases. In phase one, the federal government would unilaterally roll out a Charter of Rights and restructure legislative bodies. Phase two, a collaborative effort between the federal and provincial powers, would focus on rewriting the constitution.

. "Nothing worth having in this life comes easily. The creation and development of Canada has been no exception. So many people of differing cultures and languages and local traditions, living on a land which beggars the imagination by its extent and its variety! So many tendencies, all so reasonable, to go our different ways! Yet, so much to be gained by building one "house" for all, with many "mansions" to serve our special differences! So much to be gained by understanding and respecting each other's ways, while sharing each other's burdens, in this Canada of ours!" — Pierre Trudeau, A Time for Action

. In the autumn of 1978, Trudeau met with the premiers for another round of talks. Trudeau lessened his rigid two-phase program and agreed to negotiate 14 specific issues with the premiers. The new agenda prioritized the following: division of powers, the Charter of Rights, the Supreme Court, equalization payments and patriation of the Constitution. Saskatchewan's attorney general Roy Romanow served as the chair of the newly formed Continuing Committee of Ministers on the Constitution.

. Trudeau proposed the creation of the House of the Federation as a replacement for the Senate. He recommended that the provinces would play a greater role in the selection of the members and he stated that the eastern and western regions of the country would be more substantially represented.
Medium: Television
Program: Newsmagazine
Broadcast Date: June 12, 1978
Guest(s): Ed Broadbent, Joe Clark, C.A. Gauthier, René Lévesque, Pierre Elliott Trudeau
Host: Peter Kent
Duration: 10:35

Last updated: January 25, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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