Canada, as a British Dominion, was until 1982 governed by a constitution that was a British law and could be changed only by an Act of the British Parliament. Patriation thus specifically refers to making the constitution amendable by Canada only, with no role for the Parliament of the United Kingdom to play in the amending process. Hence, patriation is associated with the adoption of the Canadian amending formula, and the corresponding acquisition of sovereignty.
This, however, did not stop continued negotiations between federal and provincial levels of government in Canada to develop a new amending formula in which the United Kingdom would have no part. In the 1960s, efforts by the governments of Prime Ministers John Diefenbaker and Lester Pearson culminated in the Fulton-Favreau formula, but without Quebec's endorsement, the patriation attempt failed.
Soon the other eight premiers came to an agreement, and submitted their own plan for a constitution, without a Charter of Rights; and with an "opt out" clause for federal programs with equivalent funding given to the province(s). They would be dubbed the "Gang of Eight" by the media. Surprisingly included among them was René Lévesque, because it meant Lévesque was refusing the traditional Quebec demand for a veto power over future constitutional amendments. Lévesque was not trusted by many in the group until he signed the document, and many of the "Gang's" later problems would be attributed to the fact that Lévesque thought the agreement was a final one when he signed it, not a starting point for negotiations as the other premiers understood it.
Trudeau rejected the proposed document out of hand, and then threatened to take the case for patriation straight to the UK Parliament, "…[without] bothering to ask one premier." The "Gang" soon appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.
The decision was controversial, and a loss for the "Gang." Lévesque would later remark, "In other words, Trudeau's goals might be unconstitutional, illegitimate, and even 'go against the principles of federalism,' but they were legal!"
The other seven opposition premiers were startled: Canadians nationwide were mostly in agreement with Trudeau on the issue, and were tired of the constant constitutional talks. A referendum would surely give him what he wanted with the backing of the people, undermining provincial powers. Even though Lévesque would later back off of the referendum proposal, saying it looked as though it was "written in Chinese," Trudeau had succeeded in breaking up the Gang of Eight. Lévesque went to sleep in Hull, Quebec for the night, telling the other premiers to call him if anything happened.
The next morning, Lévesque walked into the premiers’ breakfast and was told a deal had been made. Lévesque refused to agree to the deal and left the meeting. Quebec announced on November 25, 1981, that it would veto the deal. However, the Supreme Court issued a ruling on the matter on December 6, 1982, stating that Quebec had never held such veto powers. Until the Quebec Liberals came to power in 1985, every law passed in Quebec used the "Notwithstanding Clause."
The events were very divisive in Canada. Many Québécois saw the deal as the English-speaking premiers stabbing Quebec in the back, which would prompt many Quebec nationalists to call it the "Night of the Long Knives. Many in English Canada saw Lévesque as trying to do the same to the English-speaking premiers by accepting the referendum. Among those was Brian Mulroney, who said that "[b]y accepting Mr. Trudeau's referendum idea, Mr. Levesque himself abandoned, without notice, his colleagues of the common front." Jean Chrétien's role in the negotiations made him almost universally reviled among sovereigntists.
With this agreement, the Canada Act 1982 was therefore approved by the governments of the United Kingdom, Canada, and all provinces save Quebec. The Canada Act contained the Constitution Act 1982, which included an amending formula involving only Canadian governments. Section 2 of the Canada Act, meanwhile, plainly states that no subsequent UK law "shall extend to Canada as part of its law."
Elizabeth II, the Queen of Canada, who proclaimed the patriated constitution in Ottawa in 1982, was aware of the rift Quebec's exclusion had caused. Thus, being aware that this was the first time in Canadian history that a major constitutional change had been made without the Quebec government's agreement, the Queen demonstrated her position as head of the whole Canadian nation, and her role as conciliator, by privately expressing to journalists her regret that Quebec was not part of the settlement.
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