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Dependents or Dissidents? The Atlantic Provinces in Canada's Constitutional Reform Process, 1967–1992

  • Robert Finbow (a1)


This article reviews the positions taken by the Atlantic provinces in Canadian constitutional reform negotiations over the past 25 years. It is based on public statements and documents and interviews with advisors to Atlantic governments. The stereotypes of regional dependence on federal transfers and conservative political culture are challenged as explanations for Atlantic constitutional positions. Atlantic leaders have not acted as dependents of Ottawa. While seeking to preserve federal authority in fiscal and regional policy, these provinces have sought to make it more responsive through guarantees for equalization and regional development, and through more regionally sensitive intrastate institutions. In some fields, preserved or enhanced provincial authority has been sought. And at key junctures, regional leaders and populations have opposed and blocked federal government preferences. Conservative values are not evident in regional support for rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms or aboriginal self-government, among other relatively progressive positions. Differences among these provinces and between individual leaders, plus a shortage of bureaucratic resources in intergovernmental affairs, have limited the coherence and effectiveness of Atlantic interventions at times. While no common regional position has emerged, certain key goals are reasserted frequently. Selected reforms to intrastate institutions and the interstate division of powers have been sought to facilitate the use of both federal and provincial authority to end these provinces’ “have-not” status.

Cet article révise les positions adoptées par les provinces Atlantiques au cours des négociations constitutionnelles au Canada ayant marqué les 25 dernières années. Il prend en compte des déclarations publiques, des documents ainsi que des entrevues avec les conseillers gouvernementaux. Les clichés relatifs à la dépendance régionale à l'endroit des transferts fédéraux et à la culture politique ne peuvent expliquer les positions constitutionnelles adoptées par les provinces Atlantiques. Les leaders politiques de ces provinces ne se sont pas conduits comme des protégés du gouvernement fédéral. En préservant l'autorité fédérale dans la politique fiscale et régionale, ces provinces ont tenté de rendre le gouvernement central plus sensible aux besoins régionaux, notamment par des garanties touchant la péréquation et le développement régional et à travers les modifications portant sur le fédéralisme intraétatique. Dans certains domaines, les provinces ont cherché à preserver ou à accroître leur autorité. Les élites politiques ainsi que la population des provinces Atlantiques se sont opposées aux préférences mises de l'avant par le gouvernement central. Les valeurs conservatrices ne se reflètent pas dans l'appui accordé aussi bien à la Charte canadienne des droits et libertés qu'au droit à l'auto-détermination revendiqué par les Autochtones, éléments jugés progressistes. Par ailleurs, les différences entre les provinces et entre les élites politiques, qui illustrent l'insuffisance des ressources bureaucratiques dans la conduite des relations intergouvernementales, ont limité la cohésion et nuit à l'efficacité des interventions des provinces Atlantiques. Bien qu'une position commune n'ait pas été développée, certains objectifs communs ont été identifiées. Quelques réformes institutionnelles ainsi qu'une nouvelle division des pouvoirs ont été recherchées afin de maintenir la capacité d'intervention des gouvernements dans leur lutte contre la situation désavantageuse affichée par les provinces Atlantiques.



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1 In this article, the Maritimes comprise Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. Atlantic Canada comprises the Maritimes and Newfoundland. The author wishes to thank David Milne, Stephen Tomblin, Herman Bakvis and Theérese Arsenault for their comments on earlier drafts.

2 Winter, J. R., Federal-Provincial Fiscal Relations and Maritime Union (Fredericton: Maritime Union Study, 1970), 57. For assessments of the psychological effects, see Thorburn, Hugh, Politics in New Brunswick (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1961), 20; and Rawlyk, G. A., The Atlantic Provinces and the Problems of Confederation (St. John's: Breakwater Press, 1979), 32.

3 Simeon, Richard, “Regionalism and Canadian Political Institutions,” in Meekison, J. P., ed., Canadian Federalism: Myth or Reality? (Toronto: Methuen, 1977), 293294. See also Simeon, Richard and Elkins, David, “Regional Political Cultures in Canada,” this JOURNAL 7 (1974), 420421, 433; and Bellamy, David, “The Atlantic Provinces,” in Bellamy, David et al., eds., The Provincial Political Systems: Comparative Essays (Toronto: Methuen, 1976), 16.

4 Rawlyk, G. A., “The Maritimes in Confederation,” in Wade, Mason, ed., Regionalism in the Canadian Community (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1967), 102.

5 Forbes, E. R., “Introduction,” in Challenging the Regional Stereotype: Essays on the 20th Century Maritimes (Fredericton: Acadiensis Press, 1989), 7. For recent references to regional “conservatism,” see Dyck, Rand, Provincial Politics in Canada (Scarborough: Prentice-Hall, 1991), 5355, 99-100, 129-30, 167-68.

6 Cairns, Alan, “From Interstate to Intrastate Federalism in Canada?Bulletin of Canadian Studies 2 (1978), 1516; and Smiley, Donald and Watts, Ronald, Intrastate Federalism in Canada, Research Studies, Royal Commission on Canada's Economic Prospects, Vol. 39 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press for Supply and Services Canada, 1985), 4.

7 Robichaud, Premier Louis, Confederation of Tomorrow Conference Proceedings (Toronto: Province of Ontario, 1967), 19.

8 Constitutional Conference Proceedings, Ottawa, February 1968, 409.

9 Smiley, D. V., Canada in Question: Federalism in the Eighties (Toronto: McGraw- Hill Ryerson, 1980), 73. For examples, see Constitutional Conference Proceedings, 1968,447;and 1971,23.

10 Simeon, R., Federal-Provincial Diplomacy (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1972), 219. This tactic contributed to the expansion of equalization and the creation of the Department of Regional Economic Expansion (telephone interview with Harry Stevens, Clerk of the Executive Council, Nova Scotia, December 28, 1980).

11 Constitutional Conference Proceedings, June 1969, 141. New Brunswick, “Taxing Powers, Spending Powers and the Constitution of Canada” (presented to the Constitutional Conference of June 1969), 20-21.

12 Constitutional Conference Proceedings, 1968, 189. See also his comments in Constitutional Conference Proceedings, February 1969, 172-77.

13 Constitutional Conference Proceedings, 1971, 3. For the premiers’ reactions, see 1971, 24. For criticism of spending power limits see also Constitutional Conference Proceedings, 1968, 103; and June 1969,217.

14 Canada, The Constitutional Review, 1968-1971 (Ottawa: Secretary of State, 1974), 165; and Constitutional Conference Proceedings, June 1969, 141. Contrast with Smallwood, Constitutional Conference Proceedings, 1968, 185.

15 Premier Campbell, Constitutional Conference Proceedings, 1968, 141. The Saskatchewan position is outlined in Canada, Proposals on the Constitution, 1971- 1978 (Ottawa: Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat, 1979), 232. See the Atlantic position in The Constitutional Review, 169-76; and Constitutional Conference Proceedings, June 1969,210,232; and February 1969, 172-76.

16 Constitutional Conference Proceedings, February 1969, 287; and June 1969. 186-87,213-17.

17 Robichaud, Confederation of Tomorrow Conference Proceedings, 19.

18 Constitutional Conference Proceedings, June 1969, 32,315.

19 Task Force on Canadian Unity, Report, Vol. 1: A Future Together: Observations and Recommendations (Ottawa: Supply and Services Canada, 1979); and McWhinney, Edward, Canada and the Constitution, 1979-1982: Patriation and the Charterof Rights (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982), 1011.

20 Brown, Douglas, The Federal Year in Review: 1977-78 (Kingston: Institute of Intergovernmental Relations, 1979), 6869.

21 Canada, The Constitution 1980 (Ottawa, 1980), 26. Constitutional Conference Proceedings, September 1980, 141,458-59,836.

22 Province of Prince Edward Island, “Position Statements: Constitutional Conference, September 1980” (Charlottetown, 1980), 64.

23 Newfoundland, “Towards the Twenty-First Century-Together” (St. John's, 1980), 29; and New Brunswick, “Compendium of Statements and Interventions by the Honourable Richard Hatfield, Constitutional Conference, September 8-13, 1980” (Fredericton, 1980), 3.

24 Constitutional Conference Proceedings, September 1980, 367.

25 “Notes for a Statement on Offshore Resources by A.Brian Peckford, Premier of Newfoundland…at Federal-Provincial Conference on the Constitution.” September 8-12. 1980.1.

26 PEI, “Position Statements,” 21-22; Constitutional Conference Proceedings, 1980, 394-95, 431; and Nova Scotia, House of Assembly, Report of the Select Committee on Constitutional Matters, June 1981, Part I, 13.

27 Constitutional Conference Proceedings, 1980, 325, 335; and “Speaking Notes on the Fisheries for A. Brian Peckford, Premier of Newfoundland…at Federal-Provincial Conference of First Ministers on the Constitution,” September 8-12, 1980, 2-4.

28 Newfoundland, “Towards the Twenty-First Century,” 32; and Premier Hatfield, quoted in Constitutional Conference Proceedings, 1980, 744.

29 PEI, “Position Statements,” 11-14; Newfoundland, “Towards the Twenty-First Century,” 34-36; Nova Scotia, Report of the Select Committee, Part I, 1981, 15, 18; Canada, Proposals on the Constitution 1971-1978, 195; and Constitutional Conference Proceedings, 1980,218.

30 Constitutional Conference Proceedings, 1980, 1067; 1981, 77; and Zukowsky, Ronald, Struggle over the Constitution: From the Quebec Referendum to the Supreme Court (Kingston: Institute of Intergovernmental Relations, 1981), 92.

31 McWhinney, Canada and the Constitution 1979-1982,93-94.

32 Cairns, Alan C., “The Canadian Constitutional Experiment,” in Williams, Douglas, ed., Constitution, Government and Society in Canada (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1988), 255.

33 Joseph Ghiz, “Presentation: Meech Lake and Confederation,” Public Forum, University of Prince Edward Island, April 11, 1988, 7, 9; Joseph Ghiz, “Presentation to the Committee to Study the Proposed Companion Resolution to the Meech Lake Accord,” April 30, 1990, 2-3; and Joseph Ghiz, Budget Debate, Legislative Assembly of Prince Edward Island, April 26, 1990 (tape no. 189), 12-15.

34 “Notes for an Address by the Honourable John M. Buchanan . . . on Meech Lake Resolution,” March 1, 1988, 1-7; Nova Scotia, Legislative Assembly, Debates, May 25, 1988, 4171, 4175; “Premier Buchanan's Statement on the Meech Lake Accord at the First Ministers’ Conference,” Ottawa, November 9, 1989; and “Presentation by Honourable John M. Buchanan”to the House of Commons Special Committee to Study the Proposed Companion Resolution to the Meech Lake Accord,” St. John's, Newfoundland. May 1, 1990,8.

35 Constitutional Conference Proceedings, June 3, 1987, II , 18.

36 Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, “Proposal for a Revised Constitutional Accord,” St. John's, March 22, 1990, 2.

37 Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick, Select Committee on the 1987 Constitutional Accord, Final Report on the Constitution Amendment 1987 (Fredericton, 1989), 5761; and Premier Frank McKenna, “Speech on the Introduction of Resolution on the 1987 Constitutional Amendment and Resolution to Authorize Amendment to the Constitution of Canada,” Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick, March 21,1990, 13-14.

38 Clyde Wells, “Presentation to the Special Committee on the Proposed Companion Resolution to the Meech Lake Accord,” St. John's, May 1, 1990,5-7.

39 Newfoundland and Labrador, “Meech Lake Accord Recision Debate: Hansard Record,” preliminary transcript, March 27, 1990, L73.

40 New Brunswick Select Committee, Final Report, 38,41.

41 Wells, “Presentation to the Special Committee,” 10; see also Newfoundland and Labrador, Office of the Premier, “Correspondence Relating to the Meech Lake Accord and the Constitutional Proposal Submitted by the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador,” October 18-November 6, 1989,5.

42 Premier Frank McKenna, “Presentation to the Special Committee of the House of Commons: To Study a Proposed Companion Resolution to the Meech Lake Accord,” April 9,1990,17.

43 New Brunswick Select Committee, Final Report, 42-44, 49; and Wells, Clyde, “Meech Lake and the Dismantling of Canada,” in Charlton, Mark and Barker, Paul, eds., Contemporary Political Issues (Scarborough: Nelson, 1988), 145.

44 Newfoundland and Labrador, Office of the Premier, “News Release,” March 22, 1990, 2; and New Brunswick Select Committee, Final Report, 25-29.

45 Newfoundland Legislative Assembly, “Transcript of Premier McKenna's Remarks on the Meech Lake Accord,” June 20, 1990, SM-2; Frank McKenna. “Television Address,” Fredericton, June 12, 1990, 6-10; and Frank McKenna, “Statement-Closing Debate on the Meech Lake Resolution,” Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick, June 15, 1990,2207.

46 Clyde Wells, “Closing Statement, First Ministers’ Conference,” June 9, 1990; Newfoundland and Labrador, Meech Lake Accord Debate: Hansard Record, June 20-22, 1990; and Clyde Wells, “News Release,” July 3, 1990, 7.

47 Liberal Party of Quebec, Report of the Constitutional Committee, A Quebec Free to Choose, March 1991, 37-38; and Report of the Commission on the Political and Constitutional Future of Quebec, March 1991,48-49.

48 Government of Canada, Shaping Canada's Future Together: Proposals, Ottawa, September 1991.

49 Citizen's Forum on Canada's Future, Report to the People and Government of Canada, Ottawa, June 27, 1991, 158.

50 Government of Canada, Constitutional Conference Secretariat, Renewal of Canada Conferences: Compendium of Reports Ottawa, 1992, passim.

51 Nova Scotia Working Committee on the Constitution, Canada: A Country for All, Halifax, November 1991; New Brunswick, Report of the New Brunswick Commission on Canadian Federalism, Fredericton, January 1992; and Prince Edward Island, Report of the Special Committee of the Legislative Assembly on the Constitution of Canada, Charlottetown, September 1991.

52 Clyde Wells, “Presentation on the Federal Government's Proposals ‘Shaping Canada's Future Together’ to the Special Joint Committee on a Renewed Canada,” January 14, 1992,5.

53 Clyde Wells, “Commentary on the Federal Government's Proposals ‘Shaping Canada's Future Together’ to the Newfoundland and Labrador Committee on the Constitution,” October 22, 1991, 13.

54 Report of the New Brunswick Commission on Canadian Federalism, 46-48. Joseph Ghiz, “Presentation to the Special Joint Committee of the Senate and House of Commons,” Charlottetown, October 9, 1991,28.

55 “Notes for Remarks by the Honourable Clyde K. Wells, Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador to the Special Colloquium of the School of Public Administration, Carleton University,” June 5,1991, 8.

56 Janice Tibbetts, “Regional Disparity Not Addressed in Current Constitutional Package,” Mail Star (Halifax), September 5, 1991; D. Cameron, V. MacLean and A. McDonough, “Presentation to the Special Joint Committee on a Renewed Canada,” Halifax, January 16, 1992; “Notes for Remarks by the Honourable Don W. Cameron, Premier of Nova Scotia, to Meeting of Ministers Responsible for Constitutional Affairs,” March 12, 1991; and Mail Star (Halifax), April 15, 1992; May 8, 1992, A9; and June 13,1992, B1.

57 Mail Star (Halifax), May 7, 1992, A12.

58 Wells, “Commentary on the Federal Government's Proposals,” 16-17.

59 PEI, Report of the Special Committee, September 1991, 33.

60 New Brunswick, Legislative Assembly, Select Committee on the Constitution, Final Report, March 27, 1992; Frank McKenna, “Address to the Council for Canadian Unity,” Ottawa, April 3, 1992, 12-13; and Province of New Brunswick, “Statement by the Honourable Edmond Blanchard, Attorney-General and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs,” Multilateral Meeting on the Constitution, Ottawa, March 12, 1992.

61 Donald Cameron, “Speech to the Rotary Club of Montreal,” February 18, 1992, 8; and Cameron, McLean and McDonough, “Presentation to the Special Joint Committee.”

62 “Clyde Wells Revisited,” Toronto Star, October 25, 1991, A28; “I've Not Changed My Mind on Distinct Society, Wells Insists,” Montreal Gazette, October 31, 1991, Bl; and “Statement by the Honourable Clyde K. Wells…at the Federal/Provincial Constitutional Conference,” March 12, 1992. 7.

63 Ghiz, “Presentation to the Special Joint Committee,” 12, 35; and “Remarks by Premier Joseph A. Ghiz,” The Ranchman's Club, Calgary, May 13, 1992.

64 Wells, “Commentary on the Federal Government's Proposals,” 14-15.

65 Canada, Special Joint Committee on a Renewed Canada, A Renewed Canada (Ottawa, 1992), 17.

66 Canada, Constitutional Conferences Secretariat, Status Report: The Multilateral Meetings on the Constitution, July 8, 1992, 3.

67 See the concerns expressed by Nova Scotia constitutional advisor Eric Kierans, “Province Should Reject Unity Deal-Kierans,” Mail Star (Halifax), July 14, 1992, A1-A2. Another Nova Scotia official attributes Premier Wells's concessions on distinct society and the powers of the Senate to his province's need for a federal aid package for fishermen displaced by fisheries’ closures.

68 Reply to the author's mail survey by a former senior Newfoundland advisor on the Constitution, September 30,1991.

69 Response to the author's mail survey by a senior Nova Scotia constitutional advisor, August 20, 1991.

70 Brown, Douglas, “Sea Change in Newfoundland: From Peckford to Wells,” in Watts, Ronald and Brown, Douglas, eds., Canada: The State of the Federation 1990 (Kingston: Institute of Intergovernmental Relations, 1990), 199229; and Savoie, Donald J., “The Atlantic Region: The Politics of Dependency,” in Oiling, R. D. and Westmacott, M. W., eds., Perspectives on Canadian Federalism (Scarborough: Prentice-Hall, 1988), 300.

71 Simeon, Federal-Provincial Diplomacy, 215. This ad hoc policy development was confirmed by officials in all Atlantic provincial governments in the author's survey.

72 Milne, David, “Challenging Constitutional Dependency: A Revisionist View of Atlantic Canada,” in McCrorie, James N. and MacDonald, Martha L., eds., The Constitutional Future of the Prairie and Atlantic Regions of Canada (Regina: Canadian Plains Research Center, 1992), 313314.

73 Ornstein, Michael, “Regionalism and Canadian Political Ideology,” in Brym, Robert, ed., Regionalism in Canada (Toronto: Irwin, 1986), 79. On the similarities between citizens’ values in Atlantic Canada and in other provinces, see Ian Stewart, “Simeon and Elkins Revisited,” paper presented to the annual meeting of the Atlantic Provinces Political Studies Association. St. John's, 1990.

74 Atlantic Provinces Economic Council, Restructured Federalism and Its Impacts on Atlantic Canada (Halifax: Atlantic Provinces Economic Council, 1991).

75 Forbes, E. R., “Looking Backward: Reflections on the Maritime Experience in an Evolving Canadian Constitution,” in Savoie, D. and Winter, Ralph, eds., The Maritime Provinces: Looking towards the Future (Moncton: Canadian Institute for Research on Regional Development, 1993), 2829.

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Dependents or Dissidents? The Atlantic Provinces in Canada's Constitutional Reform Process, 1967–1992

  • Robert Finbow (a1)


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