The Patriation Agreement of November 5, 1981 was a historic event for at least three reasons: it meant that Canada could amend its constitution without any reference to the British Parliament as had been the requirement before this agreement; it introduced a Charter of Rights and Freedoms; and various important additional amendments were accepted.
The process by which the Agreement happened, especially the evening/night of November 4th and 5th, has been inaccurately described almost from the time the agreement was announced.
Is there an explanation for this long standing inaccuracy? I suspect it may have gone along the following lines: given that the three Attorneys General were friends and heavily involved with their first ministers on this file, they either deliberately or accidentally found themselves together on the night of November 4 in the vicinity of the so called kitchen of the hotel, discussed the fact that some of the Provinces were meeting, exchanged ideas about some possible scenarios for settlement. The next day when a deal was consummated, the press automatically went to these press friendly ministers, perhaps because someone had already leaked that they had met during the night, posed the question whether they had met and, getting affirmation that they had met secretly, jumped to the quick conclusion that the deal was hatched by them. In the absence of denial the myth was born. And how much more intriguing and dramatic than the plodding of seven provinces’ representatives, in a suite in the same hotel, toiling over a written proposal from one of the provinces, which ends up being the amended written provincial proposal that leads to an agreement.
The following are some of the most glaring misrepresentations:
1. The Agreement resulted from notes on scraps of paper developed by Attorneys General Chretien of the Federal Government, Roy Romanow of Saskatchewan, and Roy McMurtry of Ontario who had assembled in a kitchen of the Chateau Laurier Hotel in Ottawa.
The evidence points to the Agreement being developed at a suite in the Chateau Laurier hotel from a written proposal presented by the Government of Newfoundland first to British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan, and later that evening the meeting was enlarged to include Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Four Premiers (Newfoundland, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island) were present, as were a number of Ministers and officials. Amendments were made to the Newfoundland proposal and late in the night/early morning this amended proposal was retyped and became the Provincial Proposal. It was agreed that night that the Premier of Newfoundland would present this amended proposal to the group of eight Provinces (all except Ontario and New Brunswick) to an already scheduled breakfast meeting the next morning, and if agreed, to be presented to full Conference later that morning. Seven Provinces agreed to the Proposal at breakfast, no amendments, and agreed that the Premier of Newfoundland should present it to the full Conference that morning. Quebec disagreed with the Proposal. It was presented to the full Conference as agreed and after a number of amendments the Patriation Agreement was born.
2. The Patriation Agreement was rushed through at the last minute without proper consideration.
The evidence indicates that the Patriation Agreement was the culmination of seventeen months of formal deliberation by the federal and provincial governments of Canada. It began with an agenda of twelve items. It was sidelined when the Federal Government took a unilateral action to try and patriate the constitution with a charter of rights and freedoms without reference to the Provinces. Several Provinces challenged this federal action in the courts and The Supreme Court of Canada ruled this Federal Action unconstitutional. Further meetings were then held between the Provincial Governments and the Federal Government resulting in the Patriation Agreement.
3. The Provinces were selfish and did not cooperate in this project.
The evidence suggests that the Provinces were eager to forge a new agreement regarding patriation and a charter of rights and freedoms. There were obvious concerns regarding Provincial Jurisdiction and the Charter and other matters but the Provinces presented four proposals: the April Accord proposal, the proposal prepared by British Columbia (presented privately to the Prime Minister on November 3), a proposal by Saskatchewan to full conference on November 4, and finally the Provincial Proposal of November 5 which led to the Agreement.
Supporting evidence for point one include: a taped interview I did the week after the Patriation Agreement was signed, a written chronology of events of November 3/4/5 prepared by Cy Abery and Ron Penney, two Newfoundland Deputy Ministers who were involved in the meetings, signed and dated November 12, 1981, public references to the media by the Prime Minister , a memo at the Trinity Western University archives by Mel Smith, Deputy Minister of Constitutional Affairs for BC, in which he describes the written Newfoundland proposal presented on the evening of November 4 , 1981, and Premiers Lougheed, Buchanan, and former Attorney General of PEI, Horace Carver agree with my version of what happened.
Visit Flanker Press, publisher of Brian Peckford’s memoir, Some Day the Sun Will Shine and Have Not will be No More. Visit The Canadian Encyclopedia for more on former premier of Newfoundland, Brian Peckford.