Canada's Political Conflicts

December 24, 1981

Report Outline
Restructuring of Federalism
Regionalism's Outward Pull
Strains in American Relations
Special Focus

Restructuring of Federalism

Trudeau's Push for Constitutional Change

Canadians are looking forward early in the new year to severing the last legal vestige of their colonial history. Barring unforeseen obstacles, Canada will bring home (“patriate”) its constitution, the British North America Act, from London, where the document has resided since the nation was founded by an act of British Parliament in 1867. After 54 years of futile attempts at patriation from a willing Britain, it is now in prospect because of an agreement reached Nov. 5 between Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and the premiers of Canada's nine English-speaking provinces.

Quebec, the predominantly French-speaking province, was the lone holdout. Its premier, René Lévesque, disagreed strongly with the terms of the agreement and ordered that flags in his province be lowered to half-staff in symbolic protest. Lévesque spoke ominously of the “incalculable consequences” that might come from the rejection of Quebec's terms, hinting that he might push anew for its independence from the rest of Canada. In a May 1980 referendum the Quebec voters, by a 60-40 margin, refused to approve Lévesque's plan for “sovereignty-association” status for Quebec. The plan envisioned political sovereignty while formally retaining economic ties with Canada.

Trudeau, having been returned to office in a national election only three months earlier, campaigned for the referendum's defeat. But he, like other Canadians, knew that the separatism issue did not die with the referendum. He had promised Quebecers that he would “renew federalism” by giving them a real and lasting alternative to separatism. The alternative would be constitutional reform, which, Trudeau argued, would show Quebecers that federalism was flexible and could be changed to meet their needs.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Oct. 06, 1995  Quebec Sovereignty
Apr. 12, 1991  The Deepening Canadian Crisis Over Quebec
May 11, 1990  Will Canada Fall Apart?
Mar. 08, 1985  Canada's Time of Change
Dec. 24, 1981  Canada's Political Conflicts
Nov. 04, 1977  Quebec Separatism
Nov. 05, 1976  Canadian-American Relations
Oct. 18, 1972  Canadian Nationalism
Dec. 09, 1970  Canada's Troubled Economy
Feb. 04, 1970  Canada's Changing Foreign Policy
Jun. 12, 1968  Canadian Unity
Oct. 07, 1964  Canadian Separatism
Jun. 06, 1962  Canadian Election
May 29, 1957  Relations with Canada
May 06, 1941  Canada's War Effort
Jul. 18, 1930  Canadian General Election, 1930
Aug. 10, 1929  Canada and the American Tariff
Sep. 21, 1926  Canadian Politics and the Imperial Conference
Bilateral and Regional Trade
Regional Political Affairs: Canada