CBC Digital Archives

Canada's constitution: an uncertain victory

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.

In the battle between the federalists and the premiers, both sides are claiming victory. The Supreme Court has just ruled that Trudeau's resolve to proceed with patriating the Constitution unilaterally is legal. But -- and it's a big "but," claim the premiers -- the prime minister should not do so without having a "substantial" number of premiers on his side. In this CBC Radio clip, both sides debate who actually emerged the winner.
. "For 54 years, all the governments have tried to get a unanimity to solve the problem and we have come to the conclusion that it was not possible, so we decided to proceed the way we have proceeded and we intend to finish the job." — Federal justice minister Jean Chrétien, 1981.
. "In the circumstances, for the government of Canada to try to proceed with its resolution would be destructive of national unity and would be absolutely wrong for this country." — Leader of the Opposition Joe Clark, 1981.

. Two months after the Supreme Court decision, Trudeau chaired another constitutional conference. During this meeting, Trudeau proposed to Lévesque that they focus on bringing the constitution back to Canada and then work on the amending formula and division of powers. If they still failed to reach a consensus, the issues would be brought before the people in a referendum.

• Trudeau recalled in his memoirs that Lévesque agreed in private and then recanted before the group. The former prime minister noted that by then it was too late; the Québécois premier had shattered the trust and the united front of the "Gang of Eight."
Medium: Radio
Program: CBC Radio Sports Special
Broadcast Date: Sept. 28, 1981
Guest(s): Bill Bennett, Jean Chrétien, Joe Clark, René Lévesque
Commentator: Dennis Baxter
Reporter: Stephen Boissoneault
Duration: 15:46

Last updated: January 26, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

All Clips from this Topic

Related Content

Canada's Constitutional Debate: What Makes a ...

In its first hundred years, geography was Canada's most obvious tie that binds. On almost all ...

René Lévesque's Separatist Fight

In the 1960s, René Lévesque made the prospect of a separate Quebec a reality. A shrewd politic...

1981: Native people fight for constitutional ...

Thousands of native people stage demonstrations over the omission of native rights in the new ...

1976: Lévesque is Canada's first separatist p...

A majority win for Parti Québécois stuns the nation in 1976.