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Nearly 50 years ago, as the Quiet Revolution gained steam, a group of Laval University law students decided the time was ripe to establish a forum for discussion on Canada’s constitution. It drew big names—from Lesage to Lévèsque—and contributed to an important and emerging debate.
With Quebec City’s 400th anniversary looming, a new group of Laval students, along with their counterparts from McGill’s Faculty of Law, decided it was now time for “a revival of that conference,” according to organizer Hugh Meighen, a second-year law student here at McGill.
And so, many months of hard work later, six delegates from each of Canada’s 20 law schools convened in Quebec City from Jan. 17-19 for the Canadian Constitutional Affairs Conference, which offered them opportunities to engage in interactive workshops, as well as hear from a host of eminent speakers. “We decided that perhaps it might be a good opportunity for students to begin to deal with some of these issues again,” says Meighen, noting the current political class’s general reluctance to revisit them.
Meighen and his fellow organizers soon realized that any constitutional debate their generation may have is likely to differ in important ways from the debates of the past. “Something that I think was most telling was our very heated panel which included Bernard Landry and Eddie Goldenberg,” both of whom were deeply involved in Canada’s past constitutional wrangling, although on opposite sides. “They got into a very strong debate, but a lot of students in the audience didn’t feel that that debate resonated with them anymore.”
Meighen is quick to point out that the issues themselves—such as Charter rights and Canadian federalism—are just as important to younger generations, but notes that the same can’t be said of “some of the lore, the stories, and the perceived rights and wrongs of the process of implementing those aspects of the constitution. The fact is that some of the defining features of the constitutional discord in the country don’t touch upon the experiences and imaginations of the students today.”
While they are unsure about making this an annual event, organizers hope to re-invent the conference website as a hub of discussion on constitutional issues, which promises to be filled with a fresh objectivity. “Ultimately,” concludes Meighen, “what the conference provided was an opportunity not necessarily to join that debate as it existed in the 1980s and 90s, but begin to formulate opinions on the debate that will take place in the future.”
To learn more or join the debate, visit www.ccac2008.ca.