UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The myth-making power of government: British Columbia, constitutional renewal and the question of regional status, 1969-1982 Fletcher, Stephen James Joseph


This thesis examines British Columbia's proposals for constitutional reform i n the dramatic and tumultuous years leading up to the patriating of the Canadian Constitution in 1982. Of critical interest is the province's pursuit of regional status within the federation — a concept that evolved in scope and complexity under the auspices of successive Social Credit governments. Their goal was to restructure the Canadian state by enhancing Confederation's regional biases in BC's favour. The BC government, in an elaborate list of constitutional proposals released in 1978, called for the extensive reform of national political institutions — designed to improve, to a substantial degree, the status and influence of the province at the federal centre (through, among other things, a reformed Senate with provincially-controlled representation) . In the heated environment of federal-provincial relations that prevailed after the 1976 separatist victory in Quebec, the BC government argued that Canada consisted of five distinct regions, with BC being one of the five (the others were Ontario, Quebec, the Prairies , and the Atlantic). The province's quest for regionhood — and its concomitant demands for the devolution of federal powers — was partly a reaction to the centralist policies of the federal Liberal government under Pierre Trudeau. BC' s proposals signalled the end of constitutional conservatism in the province, but the proposals were marred by their architects' reliance on BC-style pragmatism (eg., provincebuilding). Another central focus is the role of myths and myth-making in Canadian constitutional politics. This thesis contends that BC's quest for regional status was flawed by its attempt to invoke myths about its distinctiveness from the top down. Its demand for regional status was seriously hurt by the lack of historic, grassroots support among the province's citizenry for such a concept. The importance of myths becomes evident when one looks at how myths have been nurtured by nationalists in Quebec. The gestation period for such myths is often generations-long; the fact BC's pursuit of regionhood ultimately failed during the constitutional negotiations of 1980-81 proves that myths — crucial to any society's understanding of itself and its history — cannot be invented out of thin air.

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