First Published: The Forge Vol. 7, No. 15, April 16, 1982
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.
Karl Marx commented that important historical events occur twice, the first time is a tragedy, the second time is a farce. His comment aptly describes the comic opera that is being played out on Parliament Hill this Saturday.
One hundred and fifteen years ago the first Canadian constitution, the British North America Act, was hatched by railway robber barons like George Stephens, unscrupulous politicians like John A. MacDonald, and traitors to their nation like Georges-Etienne Cartier.
Unlike other constitutions of the time, this document made no pretense of enshrining any democratic rights. Not one can be found anywhere in the BNA Act. It was more of a bill of sale for a country than a constitution. It signified not much more than the transfer of ownership of Canada from the British Crown to the young Canadian capitalist class, and even then the old owners kept a piece of the action.
For the peoples of Canada, it was a frank betrayal of the ideals of the 1837 rebellions in Lower and Upper Canada – of full independence, national equality and a democratic republic.
One hundred and fifteen years later a new constitution comes into being. Lo and behold, it is still an English monarch who pompously presides over the ceremony on Parliament Hill and who remains head of state.
Over one century later the new constitution is touted by an aging millionaire prime minister as having the best charter of rights of any constitution. But, as in the story by Hans Christian Andersen, the Emperor’s New Clothes, when one looks seriously at the piece of paper there is really nothing there at all. It is an illusion and a gigantic hoax. No rights for working people, no rights for Quebec or for any of the nationalities, no rights for women. And any rights that are there can be overruled by any provincial government that chooses to do so.
No, the peoples of Canada cannot be satisfied with such an inadequate piece of scribbling drawn up in smoke-filled backrooms at two in the morning by a gang of the most thoroughly discredited politicians this country has seen for some time. How can anyone believe in new “Fathers of Confederation” like Esso’s boy Peter Lougheed; MacBlo’s entry Bill Bennett; Allan Blakeney, the “workers’ friend”, always ready to legislate them back to work; Bill Davis of Argus Corporation and the Bank of Commerce; Richard Hatfield, son of Irving; to name only a few.
John A. MacDonald and the boys could at least try to hide their betrayal behind the claim of founding an independent country. What have Trudeau and his lot got as an excuse?
There is no excuse. This time around the constitution is no more than a shuffling of powers among the federal and provincial governments, with each one out to maximize the share of the pie for the group of capitalists they represent.
Trudeau once said he would never barter human rights for oil and fish, but isn’t that really what the new constitution is all about? And in that barter it is the federal government that emerges a slim winner over the provinces, while working men and women, Quebec and the other nationalities are the clear losers.
So what can be done? In the long run it is clear that while we have these capitalist politicians around running the show, we will never have a government system or a constitution that meets our needs or defends our rights.
Only when working-class men and women make the laws will the law serve the working class. Only when the nationalities have real self-government will their rights be protected. And that requires a socialist revolution where the workers and working people take power and write their own constitution, not a constitutional tea party to which an invitation to the people was never extended, but whose multi-million dollar tab for three days of useless hoopla and chauvinist TV ads we are, of course, invited to pay through our taxes.
Not surprising that circuses, and not jobs and bread on the table, are “in” in Ottawa this year as the country shudders through the deepest depression in fifty years.
But it is not simply in the long run that we have to do something. It is right now as well. We cannot give in to frustration, despair or pessimism just because the people have lost one round. It is a war out there between us and them and there are many more battles to fight.
There are still a lot of people who believe that the new constitution is a big step forward. And we won’t convince them or get them u=involved by sitting back and just talking about how bad the constitution is.
Neither will we get anywhere by relying on legal challenges in the courts to interpret the constitution. We already know whose side the judges are on, and it’s not our side.
It is only through militant mass actions that we can hope to expose the fraud of the constitution. Now is not the time to stop but rather to start again. Let us continue to demand a constitution made by and for the people.
Let us build stronger and more powerful workers, national and women’s movements to fight for our rights. Let us fight for the right to strike for all workers. Let us battle for equal pay for work of equal value and all other rights for women. Let us struggle for Native self-government and equality.
Let us fight for Quebec’s right to self-determination. Let us help build a new national movement in Quebec, this time not led by the PQ, which has proven that it is more interested in defending the rights of Quebec capitalists than those of the Quebec people, but by the working class. Let us create not one but many Penetangs wherever French schools are needed.
When we win, and united we can and will win even under the profit system, it will not be because the new constitution guarantees it but because we the people have wrestled our rights from the hands of our oppressors.
vice-chairman of the WCP