Separation of powers and restoring our democracy
Rex Murphy and I see the world and country in much the same way. And we both hail from the Country’s easternmost Province.
He is a national treasure when it comes to articulating the concerns of Canadians about the governance of this place. A true wordsmith extraordinaire.
We agree, especially on the main target, the separation of powers in our Constitution and restoring democracy.
He chose journalism and I chose politics.
In one of his latest essays in the National Post he comes out in support of Danielle Smith, as I have also recently done. She is a breath of fresh, badly needed democratic air. And standing up for the Constitution especially the Division of Powers, this is after all what Canada is substantially about – a Confederation, not a unitary state.
Rex rightly points out the example of Peter Lougheed fighting against Papa Trudeau’s National Energy Program. I knew Lougheed well. I actually hired him after his retirement from politics because of his energy expertise in public policy.
But Lougheed already had an ace card – jurisdiction on his side and a well-off province. And he had allies.
In this fight, Premier Allan Blakeney of Saskatchewan should also be mentioned, and Sterling Lyon of Manitoba and Bill Bennett of British Columbia. Of course, Alberta had more oil and gas and that stands out and hence is most often highlighted. And that is where a lot of Atlantic , especially Newfoundlanders and Labradorans, went for work in the last decades replacing Toronto of the 60s and & and the Boston states, the employment mecca of pre–Confederation Newfoundland in the early part of the twentieth century.
I had a great Uncle who worked in New York and an aunt who worked most of her working life as a nurse in Boston. I had two aunts living in Toronto and many friends. My father studied social work at The University of Toronto. I now have friends and extended family working in Albert’s oil industry.
But even the veterans affairs minister in Diefenbaker’s Cabinet, and blueberry farmer Premier Angus Maclean of tiny Prince Edward Island, stood tall on supporting other provinces which had the mighty resources to make a difference to their provinces and the country.
But Rex did not have to go that far afield.
Our own Province of Newfoundland and Labrador fought on this front, going to the Supreme Court of Canada three times to seek justice – Provincial fairness, concerning hydro power and offshore resources.
In the end, it was through violating the very Constitution that we are both now upholding by supporting Danielle Smith, that we achieved some sense of justice, through the Atlantic Accord which provided royalties to Newfoundland and Labrador from its offshore oil and gas as if these resources were on land like in Alberta. The largest non-government revenues in Newfoundland and Labrador today are from the constitutional violating Atlantic Accord –Provincial Rights– making the Province a have Province.
Alberta was protecting what it already had under the Constitution. Newfoundland was fighting to gain rights that Alberta, B.C. and Saskatchewan already enjoyed and were developing and from which they were receiving substantial revenues.
Ironically, it was Papa Trudeau, in the early 1980s, the present PM’s, who was trying to dismantle the separation of powers doctrine; who lied to the government and people of Newfoundland and Labrador about the deal his government was prepared to negotiate with Newfoundland on offshore natural resources and who led the federal government’s efforts on the National Energy Program, a direct hit at the western Provinces’ oil and gas resources.
From 1976 to 1989 as Minister of Mines and Energy and Premier, I was besieged almost every day by efforts of the federal government to usurp any right or influence we had over fishery, offshore minerals and the transmission of hydro power.
In the fishery the so-called shared jurisdiction was one where the provincial government would find out by press release that fishing off our coast was traded away in a deal with the Europeans to the advantage of central Canada.
Likewise, the federal government betrayed Newfoundland when through the Law of The Sea negotiations that led to the 200-mile Economic Zone it agreed to leave Newfoundland’s fertile ground fish spawning grounds outside the agreement, becoming an easy target for voracious international fishing interests.
The province was actually sent a bill by the Federal Government for the dinner it attended at the Canadian embassy in Paris, an event that concerned the fishery. It was Papa Trudeau emissaries, one a prominent politician, another a prominent corporate executive, who were sent to privately coerce me to bargain away my provincial rights position for “30 pieces of silver.”
We need strong provincial leaders and thankfully Danielle Smith has come forward in the footsteps of the Mannings, the Lougheeds, Gettys and Kleins of Alberta, supported during my time by eastern and western leaders, to clearly espouse the living division of powers doctrine which for many decades has been under attack by centrist forces in central Canada.
It is remembering the legacy of those strong provincial leaders that we will hopefully see Danielle Smith elected in 2023 with her own strong mandate, ushering in the makings of a true democratic Confederation with the division of powers as its centrepiece.
The Honourable A. Brian Peckford PC is the last living First Minister who helped craft the Charter of Rights and Chairman of ‘Taking Back Our Freedoms’