For the last thirty years, Canadian politicians have been pretty quiet about the constitution. But, recently, it has been pushed front and centre by three of the provinces. Susan Delacourt writes:
Three provinces — Ontario, Quebec and Alberta — have taken some runs at the law of the land in the past weeks.
First it was Quebec, declaring it would be unilaterally amending the Constitution to declare itself a French-speaking nation — an idea that saw some spirited, welcome discussion in the House of Commons on Tuesday.
Quebec’s bold move immediately got the endorsement of Alberta’s Jason Kenney, who has his own plans for a constitutional broadside — a referendum planned for this October in a bid to have the equalization program hauled out of the Constitution. (Campaign workers are going to need that lead time just to fit the slogans on banners for rallies.)
Meanwhile, in Ontario, Doug Ford has turned the province into a constitutional dissenter for the first time in its history, invoking the notwithstanding clause to crack down on election spending by third parties.
It's interesting that this storm is brewing at the end of the pandemic. In the case of Ford and Kenney, one suspects their actions are an attempt to create a diversion away from their failures during the pandemic. In Quebec, the constitution is never far away from any political discussion.
So far, Justin Trudeau has kept his powder dry. But one Liberal MP from Quebec -- Anthony Housefather -- stood in the House of Commons last week and brought the constitution into the spotlight:
In a heartfelt, well-researched address to the Commons on Tuesday, Housefather said that what Quebec was proposing was a serious matter for all of Canada.
“They are not documents or concepts to be taken lightly, but to be approached thoroughly, transparently and with the best interest of the federation at heart,” Housefather said, citing legal opinion that Quebec needs more than a rubber stamp from the rest of the country. “These are not conversations that happen in one day, but rather require time, reflection and public debate. Our Constitution and Canadians deserve nothing less.”
Canadians have never thought of their constitution as a sacred document. Unlike Americans, our constitution does not purport to guarantee "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." We'll settle for "peace, order and good government."
But that doesn't mean that we won't fight about those things.