Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's attempt to produce a new constitution appeared to be stalled today following a major setback for his reform package in a provincial court.
The highest court in Newfoundland Province declared yesterday that the Liberal government does not have the right to bring in a new governing charter without the consent of the country's 10 provincial governors.
It was the latest development in a dispute over how Canada should be governed that has brought deep regional divisions to the fore.
Last fall, with consitutional negotiations between Ottawa and the provinces at an impasse, Trudeau decided to pursue constitutional reform on his own. The Canadian constitution is currently an act of the British Parliament, and Trudeau plans to ask Britian to transfer the statute to Canada complete with a new bill of rights and a formula for future amendments.
But the Newfoundland court of appeals agreed with Trudeau's opponents in provincial governments and in the central Parliament who say the provinces must be consulted because the new charter would affect their rights and powers.
The liberal government's resolution containing the constitutional proposals has been tied up in Parliament for a week by a Conservative Party filibuster. Apparently shaken by the Newfoundland court ruling, Trudeau yesterday proposed a compromise.
He said he would wait for a decision by the Supreme Court on the legality of his reform package before asking the British Parliament to approve it.
If the Supreme Court rules against his constitutional proposals, said Trudeau, "the government will have to admit that it cannot proceed in the United Kingdom with the resolution in his form."
It was the first time Trudeau showed any willingness to slow his timetable for constitutional change. Trudeau then asked Conservative leader Joe Clark to drop the filibuster.
However, Clark rejected the deal, saying Trudeau should withdraw his package until the Supreme Court rules on the legality of the proposals