Surveys show Canadians want changes to Constitution, despite what some journalists and politicians say

Letter to the Editor by Duff Conacher, Coordinator of Your Canada, Your Constitution, Toronto Star, November 2, 2012.

Re: ‘Too dumb’ for the tough stuff? Oct. 27

While there is clear evidence to back Susan Delacourt’s claim that Canada’s Constitution became a “toxic” subject 20 years ago after the Charlottetown Accord was rejected in a referendum, there is no evidence to back up her other claims.

Ms Delacourt claims that the Accord referendum caused politicians and citizens to lose “their faith in each other” and “their optimism about each other’s motives.” Some citizens may have lost their faith in some politicians at that time, but there were multiple reasons for that (including many ethics scandals in many governments).

And Ms Delacourt claims that politicians and citizens now “avoid talking to each other at all,” which is clearly untrue.

In fact, many surveys in the past couple of years show that a majority of Canadians think there are fundamental problems with Canada’s Constitution and governments, and that they want changes to make a new constitution.

A survey in May 2011 of just over 1,000 Canadians conducted by Harris-Decima for Canadian Press found that 58 per cent were open to constitutional changes to change the country’s electoral system, and the same percentage were open to changes to convince Quebec to ratify the Constitution.

A survey of 2,030 Canadians we commissioned Harris-Decima to conduct last May found that 65 per cent want clear, written rules defining the powers of the governor general and provincial lieutenant governors to approve or reject the request of the prime minister or a premier to call an election or shut down the legislature, and to determine after each election who will be PM or premier.

Currently, these powers are based on unwritten constitutional “conventions” and most countries in the world have these rules written in their constitution. Even Britain, Australia and New Zealand have written down their constitutional conventions to cover these and many other key operations of their national government.

The same survey found 52 per cent of Canadians (including 76 per cent of Quebecers) want to retire the British monarchy as the head of Canada’s governments, as 38 of the 54 countries in the Commonwealth have done. As well, the survey found that 67 per cent want a new, elected person to replace the governor general and provincial lieutenant governors (who are currently appointed by the prime minister and premiers).

As well, a survey of 1,000 Canadians last year by Angus Reid Inc. found that 72 per cent of Canadians want elected senators, and 71 per cent want a referendum on the Senate (and, right now, federal politicians and citizens are grappling with the constitutional implications of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Senate reform proposals).

And a survey commissioned by the International Association of Quebec Studies and conducted by Léger Marketing last March of 2,039 Canadians found that 71 per cent of people in Quebec (and just under 50 per cent in the rest of Canada) believe the Quebec government should propose changes to Canada’s Constitution, as more than 40 per cent think it is important that the Quebec government did not patriate Canada’s Constitution in 1982.

The Charlottetown Accord development process and referendum, and previous processes, show that making a new Canadian Constitution is not at all easy. However, ignoring key issues and changes that a majority of Canadians want is also not a democratic solution, nor is ignoring these issues the “consensus” of Canada as Ms Delacourt claims.

The question is: Will Canada’s politicians find a way to follow the lead of the people to make the new constitution they want?

Duff Conacher, Co-ordinator, Your Canada, Your Constitution, Toronto