Runner Run-Down: Quebec and the Constitution

Alyssa Laube, Coordinating Editor

(Scazon flickr creative commons)

Quebec has never sat comfortably with Canada’s constitution. Even as early as 1763, when the Royal Proclamation that began the country’s journey towards establishing the current constitution was conceived, Quebecers were dissatisfied with the amount of imperial and federal control over their livelihoods.

With the Statute of Westminster in 1931 came nearly complete provincial independence from Britain, sparking heated debate about amending the document to give Quebec more sovereignty. Despite the controversy, no changes were made until 1982, when the Canada Act and Constitution Act were passed and officially severed all British control over Canada.

A deal was collectively struck regarding the 1982 document, but then changed by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s Minister of Justice Jean Chretien without the knowledge of Quebec Premier Rene Levesque. Of course, when the act was proposed the following day, Levesque refused to sign it.

Quebec has not given official approval of the current constitution to this day, even though both the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords—among other efforts and legislation—aimed and failed to add them to the list of signatories.

When Philippe Couillard became the Liberal Party of Quebec’s new leader in 2013, he reopened the possibility of creating a constitution that Quebec could support as a signatory. Couillard intended to make this happen by colonial Canada’s 150th birthday, and at the beginning of June he announced that his government will be touring the country to meet this end. In response, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau quickly shot down any possibility of constitutional reform.

“I’m happy to talk about ways we can work together to continue to improve the way our country functions,” the Prime Minister said in a press conference in Quebec. “But as I’ve said many times—since the very beginning of my political career—I think those conversations need not go through constitutional negotiations.”

Trudeau’s rejection of Couillard’s proposition was swift and invited mixed reactions from Quebec, with Bloc Quebecois Leader Martine Ouellet deeply offended by the rejection and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne largely siding with Trudeau.

Now, over thirty years after the Constitution Act came into effect, the issue rests in the hands of federal and provincial governments. The conversation around constitutional amendment has been largely stagnant for decades, and according to Trudeau, it will remain that way well into the future.