We Can't Amend Our Constitution

I thought it would be a passing fantasy, but the more I think about an idea I heard this last month, the more I liked it, despite the fact that five years ago I would have been horrified to know that anyone was entertaining it. By the time I finished writing the following, I was convinced that it was a bad idea, not just an unneighbourly one. (But when your neighbours keep sending their dogs to urinate on your shrubs, that's how you start feeling.)

This editorial from the Vancouver Sun made me think about my idea again, especially when I came to this line:

So the Senate exists primarily as a monument to the failure of Canadians to amend our own constitution, which is the only way it can be reformed or abolished.

Why can't we amend the constitution? Because we don't actually have one. Why that is is a long complicated story that begins with the British North America Act and continues through the Canada Act 1982, the Meech Lake Accord, the Charlottetown Accord, all with special reference to the ambitions and/or good intentions of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Brian Mulroney and Québec.

Amending our constitution (as published here) requires 2/3 of the provinces representing more than 50% of the population to be accepted, and then gradual opt-in by all the other provinces. For something like Senate Reform, this just isn't workable. For one thing, Ontario and Québec enjoy too much power in the status quo. For another thing, since Québec doesn't even recognize the current constitution they will always vote "no" to any amendment because supporting an amendment would first require accepting the constitution.

So what's the idea? Threaten two things: first to strip Québec of Ungava -- a region which was not part of Québec's original territory and has consistently elected Parti Québecois MNAs but is decidedly against leaving Canada; then to expel the original Québec from Canada. If enough political will were generated in the rest of Canada to do this, it would not necessarily be a good thing but it could bring Québec's role as the spoiled child of confederation to a decisive end and it would relieve the rest of us from having our politics contorted by a political party in the Commons that doesn't believe in the concept (Canada) that the Commons exists to serve.

But then I started to do the math and the math didn't lie. This idea may rid us of a whiner but it will make an even bigger problem: a constitution that may as well belong to Ontario.

Here are the numbers. With Québec, here are the proportions that each province has:

Canada 31,612,897 100.00%
Alberta 3,290,350 10.41%
British Columbia 4,113,487 13.01%
Manitoba 1,148,401 3.63%
New Brunswick 729,997 2.31%
Newfoundland and Labrador 505,469 1.60%
Northwest Territories 41,464 0.13%
Nova Scotia 913,462 2.89%
Nunavut 29,474 0.09%
Ontario 12,160,282 38.47%
Prince Edward Island 135,851 0.43%
Quebec 7,546,131 23.87%
Saskatchewan 968,157 3.06%
Yukon Territory 30,372 0.10%

As you can see, it's impossible to get 50% of the population against the combined might of Ontario and Québec. That's actually a problem. But if we get rid of the whiners, here's what things look like.

Canada 24,066,766 100.00%
Alberta 3,290,350 13.67%
Ontario 12,160,282 50.53%
Northwest Territories 41,464 0.17%
Nunavut 29,474 0.12%
Yukon Territory 30,372 0.13%
British Columbia 4,113,487 17.09%
Prince Edward Island 135,851 0.56%
Manitoba 1,148,401 4.77%
Newfoundland and Labrador 505,469 2.10%
New Brunswick 729,997 3.03%
Nova Scotia 913,462 3.80%
Saskatchewan 968,157 4.02%

Now, is it possible that Ungava as a province has enough population (200,000 or so) to allow everyone but Ontario to gang up on Ontario? Probably not. And even if it did, what kind of an amending formula would that make? The regions have different enough interests that they would not unify like that. Ontario (new in its have-not status) would be able to veto anything that the rest of Canada wanted in most if not all situations. And as pleasant as it would be not to have to listen to Québec constantly saying "gimme or I might leave", it would be even less pleasant for us in BC (or those in Alberta) to have Ontario tell us what can or can't happen.

No, the right thing is to get Québec to sign the constitution to start with. Then, as bad as the amending formula seems it would become a reasonable possibility, not something that'll just never happen.

Following that, there has to be a reason to make economic prospects strong enough in the maritime provinces to attract people to stay there and emigrate there, especially from Ontario and Québec, so as to make it more possible. The road is long, winding and tortuous and sadly, I don't believe that we'll get there.