While the Quiet Revolution was going on in Quebec, other provinces were
also looking for new statuses and new deals. Until the late 1950s, the
federal growth that had started after the war was accepted as a good
thing by the provinces: the federal government created a medicare plan,
a pension plan, subsidized the economy. Little by little, however, the
provinces began wanting to regain control, especially of education and
natural resources, two fields that are under provincial jurisdiction
and increased in importance in the 1950s, education due to the baby
boom, and natural resources due to the development of hydroelectricity,
mining, and oil (Alberta). There was also a growing resentment in the
west because of Trudeau’s policy of bilingualism, and an idea emerged
that all this could be resolved with a new constitution.
Trudeau’s promise of a constitutional reform during the referendum
campaign meant that the Canadian Constitution had to be repatriated,
i.e. brought over from Britain. Indeed the Canadian Constitution was still the British North America
Act, voted by the British Parliament in 1867. Bringing it back to Canada,
under control of the Canadian Parliament, was the last step of Canadian
A defender of individual rights rather than collective rights, Trudeau was set on adding to the
original Constitution a Charter of Rights to guarantee the fundamental liberties of Canadians: freedom of speech, of assembly,
equality rights (no discrimination on basis of race, gender), minority rights, legal rights (freedom from arbitrary arrest), linguistic rights
(education in French and English everywhere).
The provinces wanted a Senate similar to the American Senate so that
small provinces could have more impact on the federal government. They
also wanted a right of veto over constitutional changes. They did not get
it but they gained complete control of natural resources and the right
to opt out of federal programs.
Quebec wanted a special clause that would entrench it as a “distinct
society” within Canada. This was something Trudeau was firmly opposed
to, because he saw as the first step towards the dissolution of Canada.
Constitutional reform was very difficult to negotiate, with constant disagreements
between the federal government and the provinces. Finally the Supreme
Court of Canada confirmed the federal government's right to introduce a
new Constitution without the approval of all the provinces. In the end
all the provinces except Quebec agreed with the new Constitution. The
price for the provinces’ agreement was the notwithstanding clause, which
established that with the agreement of the Supreme Court, a province
keep a law that contradicted the Charter of Rights and Liberties, but only for 5 years.
In 1982, a new Canadian Constitution was introduced. Only Quebec had
refused to ratify it.