The 43rd Parliament: Establishment, Opening, and Legislative Program

AuthorGregory Tardi
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During the campaign for the th federal general election, in , Prime
Minister Kim Campbell stated that the election is not a time to discuss
serious issues. Although it is possible, even likely, that she expressed too
hurriedly and therefore incorrectly the notion that thoughtful, systematic
debate was better conducted in a calmer and more methodical environ-
ment, this statement was very badly received and may well have been a
factor contributing to her defeat. e conduct of an election campaign and
the holding of an election are indeed choice opportunities for the renewal
of thinking about the direction of the nation, both in political and in
constitutional and legal terms. Sage advice to incoming parliamentarians
is in fact greatly needed. Campaigns and elections should in fact be con-
sidered sources of renewal of the public interest, legislation, national policy,
programs, and reforms. e following article, written to the MPs chosen
by the people for the rd Parliament of Canada, constitutes such advice.
A true Charter challenge: Empower Canadians with a new Bill of Rights,
and our MPs, too
Canadians imagine that our Charter of Rights and Freedoms sprang fully
formed from the imagination of a visionary prime minister. But we too
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quickly forget that just as crucial to our basic rights document were the 267
hours of scrutiny and amendment by a joint committee of 25 members of
Parliament and senators.
While Pierre Trudeau permitted the formation of the committee to
lend democratic legitimacy to the constitutional nation-building exercise,
empowered parliamentarians developed visions of their own beyond his
desire for tight control. “They twice extended the length of the committee’s
deadline; and they accepted several important amendments proposed by
the opposition,”wrote constitutional scholar Adam Dodek. “The opposition
Tories and NDP were willing to make deals on certain key issues rather than
simply try to oppose and obstruct the government’s work.”
Nearly as important as the substantive contributions to our rights archi-
tecture is the fact that this committee was the rst to be televised in Canada.
By being independent-minded and wielding signicant legislative power in
the public interest, these parliamentarians garnered national attention.
Things have changed in the years since the Constitution Act of 1982
became law. Critical debates about rights in Canada have been largely le
to lawyers and judges, expanding rights through constitutional interpret-
ation rather than amendment: the right to strike in Saskatchewan Federa-
tion of Labour, doctor-assisted dying in Carter and the extension of sexual
orientation as a protected ground of discrimination in Haig, to name a few.
And it’s long been a running joke in Canada that our MPs become
“nobodies 50 yards o the Hill,” but the trivialized legislative role that they
have played in recent decades has arguably made them nobodies on Parlia-
ment Hill, as well.
A dusted-o Canadian Bill of Rights, the Diefenbaker-era statute that
rst acquainted Canadians with legislatively enshrined rights, could reverse
both these trends. Without constitutional amendment, a federal Parliament
has the ability to establish new rights, thus holding themselves and the
federal government to account for future law-making and administrative
action — and reassert the centrality of our democratic representatives in the
Canadian rights project.
And rather than having new rights strewn across separate statutes, a
single quasi-constitutional companion to the Charter would enhance the
public’s ability to understand, track and organize to defend their rights.
Despite the wide net cast by the Constitution’s political framers, plenty
of now-pertinent rights never made it into the Charter: environmental
rights, victims’ rights, housing rights and the rights of Indigenous peoples
to self-determination and self-government.

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