Professor’s notes shed new light on the patriation process for Canada’s Constitution

By Costa Maragos Posted: June 29, 2017 6:00 a.m.

Dr. Howard Leeson is Adjunct Professor and Professor Emeritus of Politics and International Studies.  The Centre for Constitutional Studies has published a Special Issue of its journal, the Constitutional Forum which contains never before published notes taken by Leeson along with his reflections on the patriation process.
Dr. Howard Leeson is Adjunct Professor and Professor Emeritus of Politics and International Studies. The Centre for Constitutional Studies has published a Special Issue of its journal, the Constitutional Forum which contains never before published notes taken by Leeson along with his reflections on the patriation process. Photo by Trevor Hopkin – U of R Photography

Generations from now, scholars will no doubt thank Dr. Howard Leeson for his extraordinary note-taking skills.

Leeson, Adjunct Professor and Professor Emeritus of Politics and International Studies, was Saskatchewan’s Deputy Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs during the constitutional negotiations 35 years ago.

From his unobstructed access to the talks and the behind-the-scenes negotiations, Leeson took detailed and copious notes as a member of the Saskatchewan negotiating team. He was one of the few who even bothered taking out a notepad.

Patriation Signing
The constitution was signed April 17, 1982, by Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau and Her Majesty the Queen. Photo courtesy of Robert Cooper / Library and Archives Canada

Now, the Centre for Constitutional Studies, located at the University of Alberta, has published a Special Issue of its latest journal, Constitutional Forum.

“Patriation Papers: A view from Saskatchewan” features Leeson’s personal notes and documents which have not previously been released.

“It is a super honour to be able to write an entire edition of a scholarly journal. It was an appropriate year to do it, given the fact that it is 35 years since patriation and Canada's 150th anniversary,” says Leeson. “We hope that this will contribute to the overall body of knowledge about the events surrounding patriation. Too often the personal notes and documents of the participants are either lost, misinterpreted in some cases, or published posthumously. In this case, given my handwriting, it is also crucial that I was able to decipher them.”

Most of Leeson’s notes were published by the Centre in the book The Patriation Minutes in 2011.  

However, Leeson has reviewed his remaining notes which add new information on the behind-the-scenes negotiations that were part of the patriation process. Those include verbatim notes about exchanges between some of the main public figures in the negotiations.

“The new information comes primarily from the first three articles in the journal. This includes exchanges between some of the primary participants in the patriation process,” says Leeson.

Those primary participants include Jean Chretien, Roy Romanow, Allan Blakeney and Ed Broadbent as well as the ministers of intergovernmental affairs.

“Since there are no official minutes of any of these meetings, my notes are probably the only verbatim record of what happened,” says Leeson. “I think that people will be surprised at the difficulties the patriation process caused for the New Democratic Party in Canada. While most of us know there was a deep split, it is valuable to hear the actual words of the leaders as they negotiate in private.”

Constitutional Journal
This special edition of the Constitutional Forum provides new, behind the scenes information on meetings leading to the patriation of Canada’s Constitution.


For example, Leeson’s notes reveal a tense exchange between Blakeney, premier of Saskatchewan, and the leader of the federal NDP, Ed Broadbent.

Said Blakeney to Broadbent: “Let me add one other thing. You indicate there is no bad feeling in the caucus. I report that there is a bit of bad feeling around here, because of the feeling — rightly or wrongly – by some of our people that some of your people are leaking things to the press which are designed to embarrass the government of Saskatchewan.”

Broadbent rejected the allegation, according to Leeson, who also took note of the tense moments involving the Quebec delegation.

“In the third chapter, I provide both the evidence and an interpretation of a meeting of the ministers in Winnipeg in June 1981,” says Leeson. “During that meeting that Québec delegation was so openly jubilant about how they were going to win no matter what the outcome was, that it actually caused a deep distrust which led to the feeling that nothing that was ever offered by the rest of Canada would be sufficient for the PQ government of the day. Ultimately, it proved to be the undoing of the Québec government.”

Leeson’s actual notes and documents are being digitized and will be kept at the University of Alberta (he’s a U of A alumnus). They will therefore be accessible to future scholars and students.

”We are pleased to present this Special Issue, and are grateful to Dr. Leeson for his commitment to broadening the historical record,” says Patricia Paradis, Executive Director of the Centre for Constitutional Studies and editor of the journal. “The author’s comments are written from the perspective of a committed ‘Westerner’ and that, in and of itself, is a source of interest for scholars and other enthusiastic students of this historic period.”
 
Says Leeson: “Overall, I believe that too little credit has been given to the premiers of Ontario, Alberta, and Saskatchewan. I realize that this will likely be controversial since it contradicts much of the ‘conventional wisdom’ on the subject."

Patriation Papers: A View from Saskatchewan is a Special Issue of the Constitutional Forum which is an open access journal. Please visit here to read it and download it.