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Chapter 7: Federalism

CBC Archives

René Lévesque and the Parti Quebecois
The debate over the place of Quebec within Canada's federal system crystalized in the 1980 referendum on separation. Quebecers voted 59.5 per cent "No" to proceeding with sovereignty negotiations. Premier René Lévesque conceded that the people of Quebec decided to give the federalists a second chance. On the federal side Prime Minister Trudeau admitted that he could not get the disappointed "Yes" voters out of his mind as he and the premiers prepared to return to the constitutional bargaining table.  Their negotiations resulted in the 1982 repatriation of Canada's Constitution.

1995 Quebec Referendum Campaign
A second referendum on sovereignty for Quebec was held in 1995 despite efforts to renew Canadian federalism. With more than two-thirds of the votes accounted for, this clip from CBC Television's live coverage reveals the anxiety as results came in. The "Yes" side surged ahead early; the lead ricocheted back and forth between both sides for most of the night. This footage shows the "No" side gaining significant ground for the first time. In the end, the result was a slim "No" to separatism, as you will read in a future chapter.

Health Care as Federal Policy
One of the best examples of Canadian federalism is the national health care program launched in 1967.  As the BNA Act reserves health care as a provincial responsibility, Canada's provinces are responsible for meeting the national standards of the scheme.  Provincial reaction to national medicare in 1967 was mixed. While most favoured the concept of public health care, Alberta remained opposed to the national program and many provincial governments feared they lacked sufficient equipment and doctors to meet the needs of a system open to all, as we learn in this report.

Elected Senate and Canada's Federalism
Canada's Senate was established as an appointed body in 1867, intended to represent the country's diverse regions.  In the modern era this means the Senate has a credibility problem, since it is not a legitimately elected house. Numerous proposals for an elected Senate have been floated over the years.  In this report, members of a joint House and Senate committee propose an elected Senate with nine-year, non-renewable terms. But the CBC program The House finds the proposal facing stiff opposition. Parliament's lone NDP member still wants to simply abolish the Senate. Quebec premier René Lévesque says he sees little point in "another incipient madhouse added to another." And retired Senator Eugene Forsey predicts that after a great deal of work and wrangling, nothing at all will happen. This illustrates the on-going clash over the Senate inherent in Canada's federal system of government.

TVO's The Agenda

Canada's Best Premiers
When Canadians think of political leadership, they often look to the Prime Minister's Office. However, Canada's premiers have built our social services, provided the conditions for the economy to grow, and, for the most part, governed us well. We count down the 5 best premiers of the past 40 years and recount how they made this country a better place.