When it comes to the Constitution, Justin is not Pierre and that’s a problem

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It should be abundantly clear to everyone by now that JT is not PET (Pierre Elliott Trudeau).  Justin Trudeau may have decided to follow in papa’s big shoes by running for the job of prime minister, but he also seems hell-bent on putting plenty of daylight between himself and his father on a host of issues, including imposing his pro-choice values on his caucus, Quebec’s place in Canada, and the future of the welfare state.

But nowhere are these substantive differences more obvious then Trudeau the Younger’s views on the constitution.  When it comes to constitutional reforms, JT, unlike PET, is Canada’s status-quo candidate.

When the debate about Senate reform was raging in 2013 after the Duffy scandal came to light, Thomas Mulcair called for the abolition of the upper house of Parliament while Harper talked of electing Senators, but Trudeau criticised both plans for being too radical suggesting the NDP leader and the PM were neglecting Quebec’s advantage and that their proposals were unconstitutional.  Instead, Trudeau favours changes in the nomination process that would essentially hand over the power to appoint Senators (or recommend them to the PM) to an arms-length body, that would presumably select the latter on the basis of merit.  His reasoning was that the country needed another Meech lake Accord type debacle like a hole in the head.

When it comes to his views on Quebec’s status in Canada, he has already made several statements that will surely make his old man’s ghost come back to haunt him.  For starters, on the aforementioned Senate reform question, JT has said that he believed not only should Quebec be consulted before any reforms are proposed, but that it’s not in Quebec’s best interest to support any attempt at changing the Senate due to Quebec’s overrepresentation in that increasingly tarnished chamber.  If there was one thing that PET devoted himself to preventing, it was the mollycoddling of the province of his birth.

Then there was his horrifying gaffe on the radio back in 2012, insinuating that the Harper government’s policies were such that even he, a staunch federalist, would flirt with Quebec secession if things didn’t improve.  PET, by contrast, was nothing if not an unequivocal champion of Confederation who fought tooth and nail against the separatists in Quebec.

On proportional representation, again Trudeau is no fan of constitutional change or electoral progress.  He’s not only opposed to any overhaul of the broken first-past-post system that gave us the current Harper government’s majority mandate with one of the smallest shares of the popular vote (39%) in Canadian history, but went as far as sacking Stéphane Dion (very much a Trudeau Liberal), an advocate for proportional representation from the position of Critic for Democratic Reform.

Finally and most shockingly, JT apparently doesn’t see any reason to talk to Quebeckers about his father’s greatest legacy, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and just last week ruled out any attempt to reconcile them with the 1982 Constitution if he comes to power.  While speaking to the Quebec Chamber of Commerce in Quebec City, Trudeau said that he didn’t hear much demand for another round of constitutional negotiations.  Rather, it seems ordinary folks prefer more concrete issues (constitutional matters being the stuff of unicorns and rainbows in this country!) like job creation, the state of our educational and health services, etc.

Don’t get me wrong, those are all legitimate priorities for the leader of a major federal party, but so is constitutional harmony after 32 years of often bitter debate in Canada over Quebec’s refusal to fully join the rest of the country.  In fact, JT may be missing a golden opportunity to negotiate with the best partner in Quebec City this country has seen in my lifetime.  Premiere Couillard’s government has been clear since it won the last election, and even before, as to its sympathies towards the 1982 Constitution and the possibility of finally bringing the province on board, thereby ending one of the greatest political indignities ever inflicted on Canada (see last week’s blog).

What all this amounts to is a serious lack of vision on the part of the younger Trudeau, at a time when Canada needs a prime minister with the mettle to lead the country into another constitutional mega-project that addresses the deeply flawed electoral system, the discredited Senate and Quebec’s overtures towards the rest of Canada.  We need to heal the wounds created in part by the sometimes ruthless political tactics of Trudeau the Elder, and move forward more united as a country.

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Other articles by David DesBaillets

Are Canadian unions divorcing the NDP?
Harper government eliminates another obstacle to executive powers
Harper misses the point on calls for public inquiry into missing aboriginal women
New book and Scottish separatism resurrects the ghosts of the 1995 Quebec Referendum
Has the Harper government declared war on Canadian charities

Follow David DesBaillets on twitter: @DDesBaillets

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