Constitutional Crisis


Traditional Quebec
The Quiet Revolution
Constitutional Crisis
On-going Crisis
Recent Quebec

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 independence. 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 could 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.