Justin Trudeau's first foray in his home province as newly elected federal Liberal Leader got off to a shaky start when he was tripped up by history and his father's legacy.
In a province that is crucial to Mr. Trudeau's political ambitions, he found himself accused of arrogance by the governing Parti Québécois and greeted with skepticism by opposition parties.
During his meetings with opposition leaders on Thursday, Mr. Trudeau refused to support a unanimous motion adopted this week by the Quebec National Assembly calling on Ottawa to give full access to all documents pertaining to the 1982 patriation of the Constitution. At the time, his father, Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, was determined to bring back the Constitution from Britain despite strong objections from Quebec.
The motion was adopted after allegations were made in a book published by historian Frédéric Bastien, who accessed official British government documents showing that former Supreme Court chief justice Bora Laskin informed British and Canadian officials of court deliberations involving the patriation process. By doing so, chief justice Laskin allegedly breached a fundamental rule in democracy regarding the separation of powers between the judiciary and executive branch.
"I understand and share the concerns of Quebeckers with regards to the separation of powers between the executive and the judiciary," Mr. Trudeau said after his meeting with Quebec Liberal Party Leader Philippe Couillard. "The Supreme Court said it will undertake an inquiry to see what happened with chief justice Bora Laskin, and I'm satisfied with that and we will see what this reveals."
When asked if it would be a serious matter if the allegations against chief justice Laskin were proven accurate, Mr. Trudeau paused for a long moment before responding about an event that, if true, would tarnish his father's legacy. "It all depends what is proven … I'm anxious to see what the Supreme Court will say," Mr. Trudeau said.
The issue was discussed with Mr. Couillard, who insisted on the need to get to the bottom of allegations that could harm the integrity of the Supreme Court. "The separation of powers is a crucial issue… All of this, however, is part of history. We also have to remain focused on the economic problems we face today without trivializing what took place then," Mr. Couillard said.
The PQ said it will fight to get the facts out in the open. It was upset that Mr. Trudeau, on the eve of his first visit to Quebec City as party leader, would defend his father's vision of Canada and blame former PQ premier René Lévesque for Quebec's refusal to sign the Constitution. No premier since, federalist or sovereigntist, has agreed to do so, the party noted.
"We expect him to defend all resolutions that are unanimous here in Quebec. That's his responsibility to do so. Instead he comes here and insults René Lévesque, insults the memory of this very sad moment in Quebec history," said Alexandre Cloutier, Minister of Canadian Intergovernmental Affairs.
The PQ criticized Mr. Trudeau's refusal to condemn chief justice Laskin's handling of the patriation process. But after arguing that Mr. Trudeau had little or no comprehension of modern-day Quebec, Jean-François Lisée, Minister of International Affairs, accused him of making unreasonable demands on Premier Pauline Marois by insisting on a joint meeting with her and the two opposition party leaders.
"Mr. Trudeau made the request to meet the Premier and the two opposition leaders. He should recognize that he is only the leader of the second opposition in Ottawa and he acts as though he is this young prince coming down from Ottawa wanting to meet his vassals. That is not the way to treat a nation in the federation," Mr. Lisée said.
In fact, Mr. Trudeau had made no such demands.
Mr. Lisée later acknowledged his mistake.