It's all or nothing now for Trudeau on Canadian constitutional debate
Ottawa — After months of sluggish progress, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's historic effort to forge a new Canadian Constitution has gotten under way again. But the cost for Mr. Trudeau has been high: He was forced to stake everything on a single coming high court decision.
This concession was part of the most recent act in the long, tumultuous drama over constitutional reform. It came last week when the Canadian Parliament reached an agreement to end one of most hard-fought, bitter filibusters in Canada's 113-year history.
"I was so pleased I almost wept because to me we were at the brink of either peace or total war," said Stanley Knowles, leader in Parliament of the New Democratic Party.
The deal between his party, the Progressive Conservatives, and Mr. Trudeau's Liberal Party emerged out of two days of intense negotiations aimed at breaking the filibuster.
Describing the grueling dealmaking Mr. Knowles, a veteran parliamentarian, remarked, "When I got home that night, I was so tired I could hardly get undressed."
The deal was needed to end a two-week period when virtually nothing had been accomplished in Parliament because of an unprecedented use of debating rules by the Conservatives to hold up business.
It was stubborn last-ditch effort by the Conservatives to block Mr. Trudeau's plan for constitutional reform. Along with eight of Canada's 10 provinces, the Conservatives oppose Mr. Trudeau's action because he had tried to set up a new governing charter without the consent of provincial leaders.
For former prime minister and Conservative leader Joe Clark, the filibuster was one of his first successes since losing power to Trudeau in February 1980. And the government's agreement to await a ruling by the Supreme court on the legality of the Trudeau reform package is a major concession.
But, to win this concession, Mr. Clark has had to surrender his most important weapon, the filibuster. He agreed to limit the debate on the constitutional issue to five days, which meant that Trudeau, with his Liberal majorities in both houses of Parliament, now is home free with his reforms if the Supreme Court rules in his favor.
Previously, Mr. Trudeau had insisted that the separation of judicial and legislative powers under Canada's system required him to proceed with his reforms in Parliament without reference to the courts. The judiciary's role would come later, he had said.
Now, having conceded to the courts an earlier role in the reform process, Mr. Trudeau must await the court's decision on a test case, expected in late May or June. If the court ruling goes against Trudeau, it will spell the end of the most intense effort in Canada's hist ory to "bring home" its Constitution.