'Constitutions are never closed,' says former Ontario premier Bob Rae

The issue with reopening the constitution debate isn’t about negotiating it, argues former Ontario premier Bob Rae, who was a lead negotiator during the 1992 Charlottetown Accord, the problem lies with closing the deal.

Former interim Liberal leader was Ontario's premier during the Charlottetown Accord

Former interim Liberal leader Bob Rae says the problem with opening the constitution debate isn't negotiating it, it's finding a way to ratify the deal. (Nathan Denette/CP)

Bob Rae, a lead negotiator during the 1992 Charlottetown Accord talks and the man who oversaw the federal Liberal Party before Justin Trudeau took over, has some words for the prime minister: don't shut the door on constitutional conversations.

This week, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard announced plans to start a cross-country dialogue on Quebec's role in Canada, with the possibility of carving out a spot for Quebec's place within the 1982 Constitution.

But Trudeau made it clear he wants no part of it, telling reporters "we are not opening the Constitution."

"I disagree a little bit with what Mr. Trudeau said the other day, saying this topic is closed. Constitutions are never closed," Rae told Chris Hall, host of CBC Radio's The House.

Bob Rae walks by a group of writers and artists demonstrating outside Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto, Ont., May 25, 1992. The then premier was on his way to a cocktail party prior to the following day's constitutional conference. (Bill Becker/The Canadian Press)

Some of the issues raised in the Charlottetown Accord, including the rights of Indigenous people and Senate reform, are still happening today, pointed out the former NDP Ontario premier. Ontario was one of the provinces that voted in favour of the Charlottedown Accord amendments by a slim majority in 1992.

"The Constitution is a living thing. It's a living document. It's not some dead piece of paper. The Constitution is about how we live together as Canadians. And that's a conversation none of us wants to shut down," Rae said.

But he cautioned against going down the road of formal change, without knowing how to formally ratify it.

"The problem is not negotiation and dialogue, that's something Canadians are always willing to do. The problem is ratification, formal ratification. How do you get the Constitution formally changed?" he said.

"Now that we have the sort of referendum idea firmly ensconced in people's heads, that this is how we have to do it — nothing in the Constitution that says we have to use referenda, but it's pretty deeply based at the moment — that makes it pretty hard to get the required numbers," he said.