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Canada's constitution: The Kitchen Accord

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.

"We better grab the signatures, this paper and run before anyone changes his mind," says a smiling and relieved Pierre Trudeau. The latest rounds of constitutional debate have indeed been the narrowest of escapes. With both the federal and provincial powers digging in their heels, it seems as though the talks are destined for failure.

Through the last night of negotiations, the premiers bargain with the negotiators; Justice Minister Jean Chrétien, Saskatchewan attorney general Roy Romanow and Ontario attorney general Roy McMurtry. Around the clock they negotiate until, finally, through compromise and concessions, an agreement is struck.

Trudeau and nine of ten premiers -- the exception being Quebec's René Lévesque -- initial the agreement in the late morning at the Ottawa National Conference Centre. They agree that the British North America Act will be patriated in Canada, thereby making the monarchy largely a symbolic -- instead of an authoritative -- presence in Canada.

Also approved: the Gang of Eight's proposed amending formula and Trudeau's Charter of Rights. But the celebrations are bittersweet. An incensed Lévesque remarks that Quebec "finds itself alone," and declines to partake in the celebrations.
. As stated in the Constitution Act, 1982, constitutional amendments require the consent of the Senate, the House of Commons and at least seven of the provinces making up 50 per cent of the population. Up to three provinces may opt out of the amendment and those opting out may be eligible for financial compensation, for example regarding changes in federal-provincial financial transfers.

The three members of the "Kitchen Accord" were all destined for bigger things:
. Jean Chrétien was prime minister from 1993-2003
. Roy Romanow was premier of Saskatchewan from 1991-2001.
. Roy McMurtry was appointed Chief Justice of Ontario in 1996.

. The Canadian Charter of Rights offers protection with respect to fundamental freedoms (freedom of the press, freedom of speech, etc.), democratic rights, mobility rights, language rights, equality rights, multicultural rights and more. Levesque
Medium: Television
Program: CBC Television News Special
Broadcast Date: Nov. 5, 1981
Guest(s): Allan Blakeney, Jean Chrétien, Bill Davis, Richard Hatfield, René Lévesque, Peter Lougheed, Angus MacLean, Roy McMurtry, Brian Peckford, Roy Romanow, Pierre Elliott Trudeau
Host: Peter Mansbridge
Reporter: Mike Duffy, Stephen Langford
Duration: 27:56

Last updated: April 10, 2013

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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