Canada gets Constitution -- but not everyone's happy
Ottawa — Canada, which will herald its new Constitution in an epochmaking ceremony this weekend, is still a long way from the sense of unity needed to ensure the nation's survival.
Even as Queen Elizabeth II of Britain formally proclaims this country's new charter April 17, independence-minded French-Canadians are expected to take to the streets in noisy protest in Montreal.
Symbolically, the demonstration, which is supported by the Quebec provincial government, underscores the deep divisions that continue to strain the 114 -year-old Canadian federation despite resolution of widespread internal feuding over the new Constitution.
The provincial governments have for decades argued with the central government over the division of powers to be enshrined in a governing charter, a split that prevented Britain from transferring the authority to amend the Canadian Constitution from Westminster to Ottawa.
That situation, widely considered an embarrassing holdover from colonial times, will end April 17 when the Queen presents Canadians with a new Constitution in the form of an act of the British Parliament.
The new charter, devised in Canada and approved in Britain, will include a formula for passing future amendments to the Constitution and a wide-ranging bill of religious, linguistic, and legal rights.
It is the product of a hard-won compromise last November between Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and the premiers of the nine Canadian provinces where English is the primary language.
In forging the accord, Trudeau overcame deep and spiteful opposition from provincial leaders who had previously been holding out for more rights for their provinces.
Odd man out was Quebec Premier Rene Levesque, a fact that raised further doubts about the French-speaking province's precarious place in Canada's federal system.
Mr. Levesque, who has termed the constitutional deal a betrayal of French Canadians' aspirations for more autonomy, is expected to lambast the role of the Queen -- a traditional French-Canadian target -- in a province-wide television address after she arrives here April 15.
Mr. Levesque will also lend his stature to the protest march in Montreal. The march, one of Mr. Levesque's Parti Quebecois organizers claims, will be the ''start of a new battle'' for the province's independence from Canada.
Mr. Trudeau's planned ceremonies Saturday have already split his own Liberal Party, with provincial Liberal leader Claude Ryan refusing to attend. Daniel Johnson, another dissenting Liberal member of the Quebec legislature, said, ''Quebec isn't a part of the agreement. If I want to respect my integrity, I couldn't attend those ceremonies without putting aside my motive for entering politics -- that is, to find a place for Quebec within Canada.''
All of the provincial premiers other than Mr. Levesque have agreed to join in the celebration here Saturday. However, the brief rapprochement achieved in November between Ottawa and the English-speaking provinces is fading quickly.
And there are fears that the Constitution is only a respite from the battles over jurisdiction that the Liberal government has been waging in recent years with western provinces.
Leaders in British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan want reforms of the Canadian Senate and the Supreme Court that will give the western provinces political power equivalent to their newly acquired resource-based economic clout.
The outlook, then, seems to be for more bruising squabbles between Canada's diverse regions.