Canada facing a summer of political discontent
Ottawa — Despite the recent defeat of the separatist movement in Quebec, this summer promises no relief for Canadians from the internal political squabbles that have become the keynote of public affairs in this regionally divided country.
The historic Quebec referendum in May, with its inherent threat to Canada's future, generated an outpouring of support for Canadian until across the country.
But, once the referendum in the French- speaking province was over, and the separatist threat averted, the spirit of cooperation rapidly evaporated bringing a quick return to the confrontation politics that have dominated relations between the federal government and the country's 10 provinces in recent decades.
Talks between federal and provincial ministers are underway in Montreal to lay the groundwork for a new Canadian constituion. But these talks are overshadowed by a nasty impasse in separate discussions on domestic oil pricing policy between Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's government and Alberta, Canada's major oil-producing province. Until some progress is made in resolving the oilprice dispute, little of substance is expected to be accomplished in the constitutional negotiations.
Prime Minister Trudeau, in the meantime, has stepped up his attacks on leaders of Canada's nine English-speaking provinces, most of which, like Quebec, have been pressing the central government to shift more constitutional powers from Ottawa to the provincial capitals.
The provinces, by promoting their own interests, are threatening to tear apart Canada's economic framework, Trudeau asserted recently.
"I said in the House of Commons in the speech from the throne (opening Parliament in April) and I say it again, that the case must be made for preserving the economic union."
Trudeau was referring specifically to provincial rulings that have blocked free passage of construction and oil-rig workers between some provinces and prohibited non-resident investment in land in others.
"It is the right of every Canadian to move where he wants, to seek a job where he wants and buy property where he wants in this country," he said.
Trudeau has also been reiterating a threat to act without the consent of the provinces to bring back to Canada this country's constitution, which now exists in Britain as the British North America Act of 1867. Attempts to "patriate" the charter in the past have failed because the federal and provincial governments cannot agree on an amending formula for the constitution.
Trudeau's threat, considered highly-provocative to provincial leaders given the already low state of federal-provincial relations in Canada, contrasts sharply with the soft-sell approach taken by Trudeau during the debate leading up to the referendum in Quebec this past spring.
In a move considered crucial to the outcome of the plebiscite, Trudeau promised that, if Quebecers rejected independence, Canada would start an intensive effort to rewrite the constitution.
The implication was that the new charter would take into account Quebecs's demands that its distinct linguistic and cultural heritage be recognized. At the same time, provinces such as Alberta and Newfoundland, concerned about rights to oil and natural gas, would probably be granted more autonomy, it was assumed.
But re-writing the constitution, which has proven impossible on numerous occasions before, does not appear to be any easier this time.