Jean Chretien raps federal government’s low-key approach to Constitution anniversary

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

As justice minister, he was Pierre Trudeau's point man on repatriating the Constitution from Britain and hammering out the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Now former Liberal prime minister Jean Chretien is criticizing the federal Conservative government for its low-key approach to marking the 30th anniversary of a Canadian historical landmark.

April 17th marks the date in 1982 that Queen Elizabeth II signed documents on Parliament Hill taking the Constitution out of British hands.

In an interview with Postmedia News reporter Randy Boswell, Chretien said he has not been approached to participate in any official activities related to the anniversary.

"I don't know why they don't," Chretien said, noting the Conservatives have been pretty history conscious, for instance planning an elaborate program to mark the bicentennial of the War of 1812.

"You know, it's a very important moment in Canadian history — whether you agree or disagree," Chretien said of 1982 signing.

Chretien, who served as prime minister from 1993 to 2003, hinted that perhaps the Conservative government's approach to the repatriation anniversary has a partisan element.

"The 1st of July, I never refused to celebrate it because John A. Macdonald was the prime minister (at Confederation)," Chretien said. "It would be ridiculous to say, no, he was not a Liberal."

History is repeating itself, he added, noting he was shocked that for the 25th anniversary in 2007, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's year-old minority government planned no official events to mark the milestone.

Heritage Minister James Moore's office didn't comment on Chretien's criticism but government sources told Postmedia News the 30th anniversary would be acknowledged in coming days.

Before Parliament took its Easter break, Ontario Conservative MP Michael Chong made a statement in the Commons fondly recalling how as a 10-year-old he watched the repatriation ceremony on TV. He also hailed the Charter as "a common thread in the fabric of Canada."

With the government keeping the Constitution/Charter anniversary low-key, others have stepped into the breach.

A group of University of Windsor law students enlisted Canadian celebrities such as actor Paul Gross and comedian Howie Mandel for a video campaign promoting the Charter Project, video and web discussions about the impact of the document on Canadian society.