Chapter 5: The Constitution


CBC Archives

The C867 BNA Act
The framework of Canada's constitutional structure is known as the British North America (BNA) Act. In this radio interview we learn more about the fathers of Canada's Confederation such as John A. Macdonald, George-Étienne Cartier, Thomas D'Arcy McGee, Charles Tupper, and George Brown and their discussions over the possibility of uniting British North America to affirm their solidarity and independence. Their deliberations resulted in the BNA Act.

1982 Constitution
In this recording of live television coverage of the ceremony marking the 1982 repatriation of Canada's Constitution we hear remarks from Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and Queen Elizabeth II. When Trudeau and the Queen made their remarks Quebec was not a signatory to the 1982 Constitution. Even after two attempts to bring Quebec into the Constitution, the province remains on the outside.

Charter of Rights 20 Years Later
A significant component of the 1982 Constitution is the inclusion of a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Twenty years after the Charter was enshrined, Canadians looked back to re-evaluate its worth and power. Some critics say that the Canadian Constitution and Charter have shifted legislative power to the courts, a change that has rendered Parliament decisively less effective. Proponents, however, say that the Constitution and Charter marked a turning point in our identity and pursuit of equality. In this CBC Television report, constitutional expert David Lutz discusses Canada's metamorphosis.

Supreme Court Rules on Patriation
Although Trudeau eventually brought Canada's Constitution back from the United Kingdom, getting to that point was fraught with many challenges. One challenge was to secure the authority to do so. Eventually it came down to a Supreme Court decision that ruled a unilateral patriation was legal. But Canada's premiers claimed the prime minister should not proceed with patriating the Constitution without having a "substantial" number of premiers on his side. In this CBC Radio clip, both sides debate who actually emerged the winner in the Supreme Court's ruling.

Meech Lake Accord Fails
The first attempt to bring Quebec into Canada's 1982 Constitution is known as the Meech Lake Accord. Manitoba Premier Gary Filmon asked the legislature to start the debate on whether to support or block the Accord. Because of time pressures, he asks the MLAs to waive a two-day waiting period formality. But MLA Elijah Harper, frustrated with the exclusion of Aboriginal issues in the Accord talks, refuses. This leads to the failure of Meech as shown in this CBC Television report.

Charlottetown Accord Fails
The second attempt to bring Quebec into the 1982 Constitution was the Charlottetown Accord. Former Prime Minister Joe Clark in his role as minister of Constitutional Affairs, travelled the country to win support for Charlottetown. The Accord was eventually rejected in a national referendum. In this CBC Radio clip, Clark admitted the "No" campaign had momentum, which turned out to be true.

Supreme Court Rules on Provincial Secession
The province of Quebec has twice held referenda on separating from Canada. Following the second referendum in 1995, Ottawa asked the Supreme Court for a constitutional opinion on Quebec separation. Both sides claimed victory following the ruling, as we learn in this report.


TVO's The Agenda

The Constitution at 30
Queen Elizabeth II sat down at Parliament Hill on April 17, 1982 and signed Canada's Constitution Act. Thirty years later, The Agenda examines the politics behind the proclamation, and if the Quebec question should have been handled differently.