Prime Minister Stephen Harper is on “the wrong side of history” by failing to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms to avoid stirring up lingering resentment in Quebec, says former Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow.
In an interview with Evan Solomon, host of CBC’s Power & Politics, Romanow believes bitter divisions have dissipated over time, and that Harper is in a “very, very small minority of Canadians” not marking the occasion as a historic milestone.
“I’m saddened a bit that the prime minister would not recognize it as an important contribution to Canada’s nation-building, an articulation of our values and our responsibilities," he said. "However, he’s entitled to his point of view."
The prime minister called the 30th anniversary an “interesting and important step,” but noted the charter remains inextricably linked to the patriation of the constitution — and divisions around that remain “very real.”
Harper also noted the charter had roots in the Bill of Rights established by former Progressive Conservative prime minister, John Diefenbaker, in 1960.
Romanow suggested the statements were unnecessarily partisan in tone.
“There will be separatists who don’t like the process or perhaps even the substance – what can we do about that, except to explain in Quebec and elsewhere to Canada and elsewhere in the world that this country is one of the greatest, most fair-minded, most opportunity-filled nations in the world?” he said.
“I think that’s what we should be celebrating, and harbouring, in fact, raising the spectre, I find it tough to accept that a prime minister would raise it.”
Solomon also asked Romanow about NDP Leader Tom Mulcair’s support for a 2002 motion by the Parti Quebecois reaffirming that the Constitution Act was unacceptable for Quebec. Mulcair was a Liberal MNA at the time.
“I think when you are a prime minister, when you are a leader of the official opposition, you are working off what has been accomplished," Romanow said. "Imperfectly, I admit, but basically a tremendous product accomplished in the sense of building another block for strengthening the unity of this country."
Romanow was Saskatchewan’s attorney general and intricately involved in the high-stakes political negotiations in the run-up to the patriation of the constitution in 1982. Failure to bring home the constitution would have had “unconscionable and unfathomable” consequences for Canada, he said.
In the two-part, one-on-one interview on the 30th anniversary of the charter, Romanow also recounted details of the secret negotiations and political drama that characterized the run-up to the patriation of the constitution. He also offered his own account of the famous "Night of the Long Knives" — when politicians negotiated the final draft of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Here are some facts you may not have known about NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair. (CP)
<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Mulcair" target="_hplink">Mulcair was Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks</a> in Jean Charest's Liberal government in Quebec. He served in the role from 2003-2006. (CP)
Mulcair married Catherine Pinhas in 1976. She was born in France to a Turkish family of Sephardic Jewish descent. <a href="http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/1158289--thomas-mulcair-s-wife-catherine-a-psychologist-and-political-confidante?bn=1" target="_hplink">Mulcair has French citizenship through his marriage</a>, as do the couple's two sons. (KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Mulcair" target="_hplink">Mulcair left Charest's Liberal government in Quebec </a>after he was offered the position of Minister of Government Services in 2006, an apparent demotion from Minister of the Environment. Mulcair has said his ouster was related to his opposition to a government plan to transfer land in the Mont Orford provincial park to condo developers. (CP)
Mulcair's great-great-grandfather on his mother's side was <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honor%C3%A9_Mercier" target="_hplink">Honoré Mercier, the ninth premier of Quebec</a>. (Public Domain/Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec)
<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Mulcair" target="_hplink">Mulcair was the first New Democrat to win a riding in Quebec during a federal election</a>. He held the riding of Outremont during the 2008 election after first winning the seat in a 2007 by-election. Phil Edmonston was the first New Democrat to win a seat in Quebec, but his win came in a 1990 by-election. Robert Toupin was the very first to bring a Quebec seat to the NDP, but he did it in 1986 by crossing the floor. (Alamy)
<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Mulcair" target="_hplink">Mulcair's father Harry Donnelly Mulcair was Irish-Canadian</a> and his mother Jeanne French-Canadian. His father spoke to him in English and his mother in French -- explaining his fluency in both official languages. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Muclair has voted in past French elections, but says that now that he is leader of the Official Opposition <a href="http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/1157191" target="_hplink">he will not take part in the upcoming French presidential vote</a>. (Thinkstock)
<a href="http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/1158289--thomas-mulcair-s-wife-catherine-a-psychologist-and-political-confidante?bn=1" target="_hplink">Mulcair met his future wife at a wedding when they were both teenagers</a>. Catherine was visiting from France. They married two years later when they were both 21. (CP)
<a href="http://www2.macleans.ca/2012/03/16/thomas-mulcair-is-mr-angry/" target="_hplink">Mulcair was given the moniker in a Maclean's headline</a>, but the new leader of the NDP has long been known for his short fuse. In 2005, he was fined $95,000 for defamatory comments he made about former PQ minister Yves Duhaime on TV. The comments included French vulgarity and an accusation that alleged influence peddling would land Duhaime in prison.