The Canada Act

The Canada Act By 1980 the constitution was no longer as well suited for the country of Canada. Changes were needed to be made in the constitution which had not been touched over the last 113 years. The Prime Minister wanted to secure a bill of rights in the constitution but also wanted to patriate the BNA Act. This meant to bring the act from British hands into Canadian control. In 1931 an earlier attempt had been made to patriate the BNA Act. At the time British Parliament had just recently passed the Statute of Westminster, which gave all dominions under British influence complete independence and no longer held them to British Law.

This law also applied to Canada but not including the BNA Act. This occurred because the Federal and Provincial governments could not agree on a way of revising the act. The Provincial Government rather liked this agreement because it kept the federal government from going out and acting on its own and violating provincial rights. The question of amending the BNA Act was discussed many times after 1931. In 1971 in Victoria an agreement was almost made. The provinces were given 10 days to go over the proposals made in Victoria but Quebec did not agree and it was all scrapped leaving them at square one once again. Ontario and New Brunswick’s input on the changes in the constitution/BNA Act: – free to carry on business throughout the country – should not be restricted by provincial rules on trade – one parliament ruling Canada – manage economic power to distribute wealth easily – provincial wealth should be distributed throughout Other provinces, (mainly Quebec), input on the changes in the constitution/BNA Act: – provincial communities are equally important to Canadians as was the nation provincial governments should better understand the needs of the people – Ottawa was not the only voice for Canada – provinces wanted more power in federal policies that concerned provincial matters In September 1980 another federal – provincial conference was held to discuss amending the BNA Act once again.

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Unfortunately there were two conflicting views at these meetings. The Prime Minister, Trudeau, took on the view that we were all “Canadians” – not French or English, not Westerners or Easterners. Trudeau thought that Canadians would do best to have all the same freedoms across the country. He wanted to focus on breaking down the provincial barriers and unify Canadians as citizens. October 2, 1980, Prime Minister Trudeau announced that he was going to patriate the constitution on the federal initiative alone.

This statement did not go over well with the provinces. The supreme court was consulted on wether this was legal and some changes were made after it was declared legal but a huge break in the traditional methods of doing things. During October and November 1981, last minute negotiations and changes were made and finally an agreement was reached between Ottawa and nine of the provinces on a constitutional package. Of course the disagreeing province was Quebec who refused to go along with the agreement because Quebec had not been given Veto power over amendments. Still the proposals were passed and in March 1982 the British Parliament gave its approval to the newly proposed constitution act. The New Constitution Act included amendments made over the years to the BNA Act.

But there were additions that would have effect on the federal system of the future. The new act focuses on strengthening provincial government control over natural resources, defines the principle of equalization which intends to guarantee all Canadians will have access to basic public services no matter where they live. The rights also included protection of both French and English language rights. In a separate section the existing Native rights are also protected. The changes in the BNA Act and Canadas constitution follow in suite to the changing times.

The changes made for this day and age may no longer be applicable 50 years from now and once again the act will be reviewed and probably renegotiated.