Madam Speaker, after the fire and brimstone of recent minutes, which reminded me of a Wagnerian opera performed by a travelling company in a provincial town, I would like to return to the subject of the debate, which is the motion moved by the leader of the Reform Party and the amendment moved by the leader of the government in the House. That concerns the issue of constitution making in our times and this issue of federalism.
I will come back to a point raised by the Reform Party which is a criticism of the government for a failure to define what the leader of the Reform Party has said, a constitutional program for the Quebec referendum.
There is a time when it is ripe for constitution making in any society but in the majority of times, it is just not simply right. The only successful ventures in constitution making occur in a period of national euphoria, a national consensus usually following on a great military victory or a great revolution. We have not had those in Canada and therefore changes have had to be made on a basis of pragmatic incremental adjustment on a step by step basis. It has worked rather well.
A problem that is basic to the Reform Party leader's program is that there are, as President Franklin Roosevelt used to say: "Too many ifs there": if a certain party should win a certain election in a province, if it should then go on to a referendum, if it should then win a referendum, if it should then decide the majority is enough to ask for negotiations and if, finally, the other party should itself decide the numbers are sufficient to give credibility to the vote and to warrant negotiations in return.
It is a counsel of folly to suggest defining constitutional conditions for an iffy situation of this sort. A Constitution is as Mr. Justice Owen Roberts of the United States Supreme Court once said: "A constitution is not a railway excursion ticket good for one particular journey at one particular time and one particular place". The ideas you put forward have to have a long range currency.
One has the feeling that constitution making is being put forward as it was in the Mulroney era as a substitute for serious substantive thinking on economic matters. We want no more of the travelling circuses of Meech and Charlottetown. They were a failure and not the answer to the problems of the time.
If I may venture the critique of the Reform Party constitutional agenda, it is that there is an absence of a coherent overall vision. It seems to be a collection of ad hoc responses to a particular problem in which the deemed political advantage seems to be very high.
I noted and agreed with some of the criticisms made by the Reform Party on Bill C-18 but I deplore the total absence of substantive ideas on electoral reform which go to the core of the constituent process and are more important than the constitutional processes themselves.
I also wonder if the emphasis on the constitutionally acute proposals; referendum, initiative and recall do not disguise the absence of more fundamental thinking and depth on more fundamental issues such as the relationship between executive and legislative power and the need for a strong countervailing power, whether legislative or judicial, to the imperial executive that one is tended to have in Westminster derived constitutional systems today.
Finally on native Indian self-government I find enormous ambiguity that needs resolution and perhaps disguises political divisions within a party.
Let us return to the issue. What is the approach of the Liberal government on the Quebec issue? At this stage we can say there are some limiting parameters and these need to be said. The federal government has a totality of constitutional power to
control and determine the holding of a referendum by a provincial government on a subject such as leaving the federal system.
For political reasons which were no doubt right and proper in 1980 the decision was made not to exercise those. The controlling parameters today would certainly include the ability to scrutinize a question and make sure that it is clear and unambiguous and not like the deliberately cloudy formula put forward in October 1980.
Second, there is a necessary control of the timing and I think it is clear that this will be the last referendum allowed. We cannot have the country on roller skates going from one referendum to another year after year; once more, no more after.
Third, there are to be no special deals, constitutional deals made in preparation for referendum for any one province within the country. Canada is not a supermarket offering a special one day deal for one occasion at any time.
To come back to the approach of the Liberal government, is there a Chrétien doctrine? The leader of the Reform Party has suggested that there is not. I think the difference and the subtlety of the approach are well rooted in common law constitutionalism and common law constitution making. The Chrétien doctrine is closer today to the pluralistic federalism of the Pearson era, sometimes called co-operative federalism, than it is to the neo-Keynesian imperatives of the Mulroney government and to some extent perhaps the Trudeau government at certain periods.
The approach is not the Sermon on the Mount, a set of abstract a priori rules conceived in an ivory tower in the political vacuum away from concrete problems. It is essentially a pragmatic, empirical, problem oriented, step by step approach. I think this is the only one proper and possible effectively in an era of fundamental change such as we have in Canada and in the world community as a whole.
Among the considerations, to examine that sovereignty is a 19th century concept is simply out of date in a era when supernational legal engagements like the free trade agreement, like NAFTA and NATO are entered into and, as we saw in our debate on cruise missiles, are regarded as binding even if governments may think in particular cases that they were wrong, as I think our government felt in relation to the Mulroney decision on cruise missiles. We accepted it as part of our supernational obligations.
There is the passing of sovereignty even in a period of which you notice the contradictions, the survival of the contradictions, and the revival of ethnic particularism in a pathological sense as we have had in Bosnia-Hercegovina and other areas of the world.
What we really need is an operational philosophy of federalism rigorously empirical and problem oriented. Among the areas in which I think action has already been taken I will commend the emergence of this operational pragmatism in the approach to the infrastructure program which is designed to produce the economic recovery. It involves continuing and close co-operation with the provinces and with municipalities in which abstract a priori structures of government that divide power between federal and provincial governments are sensibly modified by the parties. It also involves the removal of interprovincial trade barriers and that rests on negotiation and discussion.
In my own constituency my assistants are now arguing before the electoral boundaries commissions, presenting a case. It involves a commitment to plural ethnic constituencies and not the mono-ethnic constituencies of yesteryear which are very close to 19th century approaches to multiculturalism or multinational societies.
In the area of native Indians I commend the House to Bill C-33 and Bill C-34 whose debate was rudely stopped a week ago just as it was beginning.
There you do have a species of consensual pragmatism between the main parties, the native Indian leaders in the Yukon and the government in which a highly pragmatic, step by step approach to self-government within Canadian federalism and subject to the bill of rights has been worked out. I think this is a model of intelligent constitution making for the 21st century. We have arrived at it well before the 21st century.
The reform of Parliament is something to which the Prime Minister is personally committed. I think he realizes, because his approach is closer to the gentler pragmatism of Prime Minister Pearson, that Parliament has a function, that it is a necessary countervailing power to the executive. The changes that can be made here are wholly within federal power.
At the end of the day you do have a continuing, coherent constitutional process yielding precise, empirically based principles. They are problem oriented and therefore likely to stand the test of challenge of changing events.
The problem with the Sermon on the Mount is that it is an illusion created for people who want simple panaceas, divorce from concrete problem situations.
There, as I see it, is the Chrétien doctrine. It is a constitutional philosophy. As was said in Molière's Le bougeois gentilhomme , you can speak prose all your life, even though you do not recognize it. The essence of operational pragmatism is at the heart of the received common law constitutionalism we have had in Canada and which has been enriched by civil law components as well.