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Last revised:
23 August 2000

Quebec and the Patriation of the Constitution 1981-1982

Letter from René Lévesque to Pierre-Elliott Trudeau, November 25, 1981.

November 25, 1981

Dear Prime Minister:

On behalf of the Government of Quebec, I am officially forwarding to you the Order by which Quebec formally exercises its right of veto of the resolution con-cerning patriation and amendment of the Canadian Constitution, as tabled in the House of Commons by the Minister of Justice on November 18, 1981. I wish to point out in this connection that the Government of Quebec has always maintained that the assent of Quebec was constitutionally required to any agreement that would allow patriation of the Constitution and establish-ment of the amending formula for the future.

The discussions that resulted in the interprovincial Accord of April 16, 1981 related solely to the method of amending the Constitution after patriation. Since that Accord is now null and void, Quebec is no longer bound by it and we have returned to the previous situation. There has therefore never been any ques-tion of affecting the right of veto that Quebec has always possessed and still possesses concerning patriation and the amending formula as such.

With respect to Quebec's right of veto over the distribution of jurisdictions referred to in the interprovincial Accord dated April 16, 1981, we have always said that only a right to opt out together with full and obligatory compensa-tion could be an acceptable substitute. Since this quid pro quo has been denied, we retain our traditional right of veto unchanged.

Accordingly, I would ask that you take the same action as you took in 1971 when Quebec objected to the Victoria agreement, and suspend your project until an agreement exists not only with the Anglophone provinces but also with Quebec. I would also ask you to table the text of this letter and attachment in the House of Commons and the Senate, so that Canadian parliamentarians are formally advised of the official position of Quebec. For my part, I intend to table a copy in the National Assembly of Quebec.

On the substance of the issue, I repeat that Quebec is prepared to sign any agreement that meets the minimum conditions set forth in the motion I tabled in the National Assembly on November 17, 1981, of which you have already received a copy. Those are reasonable conditions representing for Quebec the essential minimum it requires in order to protect its distinctiveness and its historic rights.

Yours truly,

René Lévesque

Source: James Ross HURLEY, Amending Canada’s Constitution, Canada Supply and Services, 1996, 297p.