Justice Minister Is Quick to Confront Canada's Big Issues


JUST over a month after Canadian voters rejected a plan to unify the nation by rewriting its Constitution, most politicians have taken the cue to "concentrate on the economy."

Yet the questions of regional identity and national unity that led to a national referendum on the failed Charlottetown Accord will not entirely go away. Justice Minister Kim Campbell - a name on the tip of every pundit's tongue as a strong prospect to be Canada's next leader - seems to understand this key point.

"I just think there's a yearning to find something that binds us, and some way of defining us, and some way of feeling that Canada really is something," she says. "But you need to find the language to make that an accessible idea for people."

Smart, tough, and ambitious, Ms. Campbell, who hails from Vancouver, British Columbia, has been quick to defer to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney as the logical Progressive Conservative Party standard bearer. But with Mr. Mulroney's popularity in polls at around 22 percent, she is clearly in the wings if Mulroney should step down before the elections campaign heats up.

In a recent Monitor interview in Boston, Campbell discussed the lessons she sees coming out of the failed two-year-long process of proposed constitutional changes known as the Charlottetown Accord. Among these lessons, she says, is the need for political leaders to lead the way in articulating and cultivating a shared vision of Canada as crucial to the nation's future.

"I think so much of what people went through in talking about the various aspects of the Charlottetown Accord related to their attempt to define the country, what it is we are as a country, what are the things that unify us," Campbell says.

"It sometimes seems to boil down to nothing more than our social programs, and I think no, no, no.... We have a social and political culture that's quite remarkable," she says. "We have ways of doing things ... certain senses of historical connectedness that gave us a sense of obligation to one another."

She cites several key developments since the referendum:

* A window of opportunity created by a climate of goodwill and relative unity since the referendum.

"The referendum has eased a lot of poison out of the system. I think, in fact, that people are remarkably serene. I don't get the sense of people being angry. It's quite extraordinary.... What we've got is an opportunity, because I think we have an enormous amount of good will in the country right now." Polls show attachment to Canada is at an all time high, "even in Quebec."

* A need to cultivate confidence in the Canadian democratic process and to make the federal government more overtly representative or "transparent" to constituents.

"People think that their members go to Ottawa and just do what the prime minister says ... and that's not correct," Campbell says. "But in terms of today's expectations, we need to find some way of helping ... [make] the variety of views and the genuine cut and thrust and debate more apparent, more obvious."

* A need to show Canadians that much of what they value has been accomplished, including strong social programs, within the broad outlines of current Canadian law. As a consequence, the need to make wholesale revisions to the Constitution is perhaps not as great as before believed.

"There may still have to be some made, I just hope that the agenda will be more modest and that we come to see its limitations. It's not the note that lets you out of school for participating in the democratic political process."

In the cooling that has come after the heat of the referendum campaign, Campbell says, something new can be added to the Canadian political scene: a shared sense of national purpose.

"We need to examine our institutions and processes," she says. "But we also need to find some language that articulates what our joint venture is as a country ... [and] encapsulates the ideas and the feelings that make community life a reality."

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