Ontario Legislative Library
Legislative Research Service

Backgrounder B-19
April 24, 1998
ISSN 1206-1514

The Calgary Declaration

Ted Glenn
Research Officer

The Legislative Research Service provides confidential non-partisan research analysis to Members of all parties of the Legislative Assembly and legislative committees. We also produce a range of general distribution research reports geared to MPPs' interests and designed to support their legislative functions. These papers may be of interest to a broader audience as well.

Legislative Research Service, Room 2520, Whitney Block, 99 Wellesley Street West, Toronto, ON M7A 1A9


The narrow defeat of the sovereignty option in Quebec’s 1995 referendum made Canada’s provincial, territorial and federal governments want to demonstrate to Quebeckers that renewed federalism continued to be a viable option to sovereignty. The federal government successfully put a resolution affirming Quebec’s Distinct Society to the House of Commons, succeeded in having legislation passed which provided for regional vetoes in respect of certain constitutional amendments, and announced it would withdraw from the field of labour market training in favour of the provinces. The federal government also outlined a broader constitutional strategy in its 1996 Throne Speech, part of which was referring the question of the legality of Quebec secession to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Disgruntled with the federal government’s strategy in the 1995 Quebec referendum, but wanting to demonstrate good will to Quebeckers on their own behalf, Canada’s premiers and territorial leaders - except for Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard 1 - met in Calgary on 13 September 1997 to set out some broad principles for constitutional reform. After a full day’s meeting, the Premiers and territorial leaders released the Framework for Discussion on Canadian Unity.

This paper begins by providing the text of the Framework which the Premiers and territorial leaders developed and put out for extensive public consultation (the Framework became popularly known as the Calgary Declaration). It then examines the reactions elicited from the public, the federal government, Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard, and Aboriginal Canadians. The paper concludes with an overview of how the signatory provinces have ratified the Framework.

The Framework
The text of the Calgary Declaration is as follows:

1. All Canadians are equal and have rights protected by law.
2. All provinces, while diverse in their characteristics, have equality of status.
3. Canada is graced by a diversity, tolerance, compassion and an equality of opportunity that is without rival in the world.
4. Canada's gift of diversity includes Aboriginal peoples and cultures, the vitality of the English and French languages and a multicultural citizenry drawn from all parts of the world.
5. In Canada's federal system, where respect for diversity and equality underlies unity, the unique character of Quebec society, including its French speaking majority, its culture and its tradition of civil law, is fundamental to the well being of Canada. Consequently, the legislature and Government of Quebec have a role to protect and develop the unique character of Quebec society within Canada.
6. If any future constitutional amendment confers powers on one province, these powers must be available to all provinces.
7. Canada is a federal system where federal, provincial, and territorial governments work in partnership while respecting each other's jurisdictions. Canadians want their governments to work cooperatively and with flexibility to ensure the efficiency and effectiveness of the federation. Canadians want their governments to work together particularly in the delivery of their social programs. Provinces and territories renew their commitment to work in partnership with the Government of Canada to best serve the needs of Canadians.

The Premiers and territorial leaders agreed that this framework should form the basis for a grass-roots discussion on constitutional renewal. To facilitate this discussion, the following Guidelines were released:

1. Will be open to the general citizenry.
2. Efforts should be made to find creative ways of engaging Canadians in each provincial consultation process.
3. Governments should act as catalyst for the process of consultation.
4. It is acknowledged that provinces and territories may wish to have processes of consultation in stages but the advantage of a coordinated time frame is recognized.
5. Each province and territory is free to decide on the range or scope of consultation as well as the most appropriate mechanism for consultation.

Consultation and Ratification
Since September 1997, all eleven signatories have initiated some form of public consultation on the Calgary Declaration, and six have ratified it some fashion. It is expected that the remaining five jurisdictions will ratify the Declaration within the coming months. The table located at the end of this paper provides details of the consultation and ratification processes undertaken to date.


Responses to the Declaration

…from the Public

One of the first comprehensive polls conducted in the wake of the Calgary Declaration found that 62 % of Canadians supported the Declaration.2 According to Angus Reid:

This late-November poll, after briefly describing the accord to respondents, found supporters outnumber opponents by a margin of two to one nationally - 62 % vs. 30 %. This margin of overall support is just as wide among Quebeckers (59% support vs. 30% opposition) as it is across the rest of Canada. Support ranges from 66 % in Atlantic Canada and Alberta to 58 % in British Columbia. Immediately after the accord was achieved in September, a National Angus Reid Poll found 70 % of Canadians seeing the initiative as "a positive step in the sight direction".

…from the Federal Government

On 25 November 1997 the House of Commons passed the following resolution:

That this House recognize that strengthening the unity of Canada is its highest priority and given that nine provincial premiers and two territorial leaders have begun a process of consultation on national unity built on the Calgary declaration, this House:
1. endorses the efforts of the premiers, the territorial leaders and grassroots Canadians to foster national unity;
2. declares its support for the consultation process begun by the premiers and territorial leaders;
3. urges Canadians to become involved in the consultation process and in particular to express their approval of, disapproval of, or suggested improvements to such principles as the equality of citizens and provinces and special status for none, respect for diversity including the unique character of Quebec society, and the need for rebalancing the powers of the provincial and federal governments;
4. urges the Government of Canada and members of this House to communicate with Quebeckers regarding the Calgary declaration, and to consult the people of Quebec on its contents; and
5. regrets that the separatist government of Quebec has chosen not to participate in the discussion of national unity, and has refused to include Quebeckers in the consultation on the Calgary declaration.

Although the federal government has yet to announce what its constitutional strategy will be in the wake of all the provincial and territorial assemblies giving their support to the Declaration, the federal intergovernmental affairs minister Stephane Dion was reportedly "delighted with the support the agreement has found among the provinces" at the beginning of March 1998. 3

…from Lucien Bouchard

The day after the Calgary Declaration was issued, Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard said that the proposal to recognize Quebec as a "unique" society was a concerted effort on the part of the rest of Canada to reduce the Quebec nation to nothing more than a province like the others. 4 In his words:

But we are unique, they say, by the language of our majority, by our culture and our civil-code tradition," he said. "So what? What will it give us? What will it change? Nothing! What a stroke of inspiration. Quebeckers are unique. We could be tempted to add: 'Like everyone else!'…'Unique' like the SkyDome, Cape Breton, Labatt Blue or Wayne Gretzky. This expression would render us both socially unique and a political eunuch. 5

Bouchard went to argue that the only way Quebec’s "uniqueness" could be effectively recognized is through separation. 6

…from Aboriginal Canadians

Several Aboriginal groups criticized the Calgary Declaration within days of its release for certain references which could undermine the position of Aboriginal peoples in confederation. The Premiers and territorial leaders responded to this criticism by offering to meet with Aboriginal leaders to discuss their concerns in Winnipeg on 18 November 1997. At the meeting, the National Aboriginal Leaders presented to the Premiers and Territorial Leaders a consensus statement of the five organizations they represent outlining a framework of principles for discussion of relationships between federal, provincial and territorial governments and Aboriginal governments and peoples.7 The Premiers and Territorial Leaders agreed to receive and consider the statement, and refer it to the consultative or legislative processes under way in their jurisdictions.

Consultation on and Ratification of the Calgary Declaration to Date

Jurisdiction Process Undertaken Outcome of Process Ratification
Alberta The province conducted a number of town hall meetings and issued a mail-in survey, which was completed by 50,000 Albertans. The legislature held a special three-day session in December 1997 to debate the Calgary Declaration using the feedback generated from the consultation process. The Legislature voted unanimously in favour of a resolution to support the Calgary Declaration on 10 December 1997.
British Columbia British Columbians were asked to submit their views by 31 December 1997 to a 22-member panel of distinguished citizens and elected representatives established by Premier Glen Clark on 25 October 1997. The Panel’s final report was submitted to the Legislature 12 February 1998. Not yet ratified.
Manitoba The government established the all-party Manitoba Legislative Task Force on Canadian Unity, which received submissions from a variety of Manitobans. The Committee is expected to present its report to the Legislature sometime this spring. Not yet ratified.
New Brunswick The government established an all-party special committee of the Legislative Assembly, which held four days of public hearings and received submissions from the public. The Committee reported to the Legislature in November, 1997. The Legislature voted unanimously in favour of a resolution to support the Calgary Declaration on 17 December 1997.
Newfoundland The Premier and the opposition leader agreed to a series of grass-roots consultations with the people of the province, which included e-mailed submissions and a dedicated 1-800 line. MHAs also held town hall meetings in their districts to discuss the Calgary Declaration with their constituents. The panel’s legislature debated a Resolution on the Calgary Declaration at the end of November 1997. The Legislature voted unanimously in favour of a resolution to support the Calgary Declaration on 2 December 1997.
Nova Scotia An all-party Select Committee on National Unity was established and conducted nine public hearing across the province and received submissions from the public. The Committee reported to the Legislature on 16 February 1998. Not yet ratified.
Ontario An all-party consultation process was launched, including a Web-based survey, town hall meetings hosted by MPPs, a dedicated 1-800 line, and a mail-in survey. Consultation process is not yet complete. Not yet ratified.
Quebec N/A N/A N/A
Prince Edward Island The government established an all-party Select Standing Committee on the Constitution of Canada, which conducted public hearings and received submissions from the public. The Committee reported to the Legislature in November 1997. The Legislature voted unanimously in favour of a resolution to support the Calgary Declaration on 5 December 1997.
Saskatchewan Over a period of six weeks, citizens were consulted via a 1-800 number, an Internet web site, a questionnaire delivered to every household in the province, and more than 160 public meetings held across the province. The process culminated in a weekend conference in Saskatoon in November 1997. On behalf of the Legislature, the Canada West Foundation wrote a final conference document which was submitted to the Legislature for consideration in December 1997. The Legislature voted unanimously in favour of a resolution to support the Calgary Declaration on 16 December 1997.
Northwest Territories The Legislature established a Special Committee of the Legislature on National Unity, which conducted public hearings and received submissions. The Committee reported to the Legislature in November 1997. The Legislature voted unanimously in favour of a resolution to support the Calgary Declaration on 2 December 1997.
Yukon The Government established a non-partisan Commission to conduct public consultation on the Calgary Declaration. The Commission used a 1-800 line, a mail-out survey, and an electronic town hall discussion to facilitate discussion. The Commission submitted its report to the Legislature on 22 January 1998. Not yet ratified.


1  According to Premier Frank McKenna, Bouchard was invited to the meeting but declined the invitation stating that "there was nothing that could be done that would satisfy him." Rheal Seguin, "Bouchard reviles unity proposal Plan would abolish Quebec reality," Globe & Mail, 17 September 1997. Return

2  The Angus Reid Group, The Calgary Accord, http://www.angusreid.com/pressrel/
pr2_081297.html, 26 March 1998.

3  Huguette Young, "Success of unity plan delights Dion," Montreal Gazette, 2 March 1998, http://www.montrealgazette.com/PAGES/980302/1658341.html. Return

4  Rheal Seguin, "Bouchard reviles unity proposal," 17 September 1997. Return

5  Ibid. Return

6  See as well, Lucien Bouchard, "Calgary nous rapetisse, nous comprime et nous réduit L'ambition du Canada, c'est que le Québec ne soit pas ambitieux," Le Devoir, 17 September 1997. Return

7  Government of Manitoba, Press Release, http://www.gov.mb.ca/unity/relation.html, 25 March 1998. Return