By Haroon Siddiqui
April 17, 2012
A new generation of “Charter kids” and “Charter judges” is advancing individual rights and diluting the “communitarian impulses” of Canadians, he said in a telephone interview from Saskatoon, where he teaches at the University of Saskatchewan.
Romanow played a pivotal role at the historic 1981 First Ministers’ Conference in Ottawa that paved the way to the signing of the Charter by the Queen on April 17, 1982.
As Saskatchewan’s attorney general at the time, he worked across party lines to help break a deadlock between then Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau and the premiers.
Joining him in brokering the Charter were Liberal Jean Chrétien, then-federal minister of justice, and Conservative Bill Davis, premier of Ontario, and his attorney general Roy McMurtry.
I spoke to all four for the landmark Charter anniversary.
Chrétien, Davis and McMurtry spoke glowingly about how the Charter has made Canada a more equitable society.
It certainly has, said Romanow. But it’s also opening the door to a more self-centred society.
“Before the Charter, we essentially looked for the resolution of federal-provincial disputes more from a provincial perspective, a regional perspective and a communitarian perspective.
“Now after 30 years we have empowered individuals and they have tried to enforce individual rights.
“We have a new generation of Canadians who don’t see Canada the way I saw it. My generation looked to over-arching Canadian values being predominant. And that meant that there were more opportunities of sharing, accommodating and compromise.
“When I teach today, I notice that these Charter kids think more individually. They have less of a historical connection to the notion of communitarian impulses. It’s almost like a different country now.
“They see Canada through an individual lens, whether it’s their gender rights or health rights. It’s worrisome because the answers are not always either/or.”
Romanow cited a 2005 Supreme Court decision rejecting Quebec’s prohibition against individuals buying private health insurance for publicly available health services.