By Colin MacLean
Former Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Brian Peckford has rewritten Canadian history — literally.
Peckford’s memoir, “Some Day the Sun Will Shine and Have Not Will Be No More,” has helped to prompt a change to the Encyclopedia of Canada.
Specifically, the change was made to the entry discussing the patriation of the Canadian Constitution.
The entry now gives Peckford and Newfoundland and Labrador more credit than they previously had in resolving the patriation negotiations of 1981. Peckford was this province’s premier and chief representative at those meetings.
In his book, he contends that it was a proposal by Newfoundland and Labrador that resulted in an agreement being reached between all the parties at the negotiations, except Quebec.
Account brings ‘balance to the story’
Stephen Azzi, an author and history professor at Carlton University, wrote the revised encyclopedia entry.
An article by Azzi outlining why the change was necessary has been published online at www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com.
“Brian Peckford deserves considerable credit for our constitution, alongside Pierre Trudeau, Jean Chrétien, Roy Romanow, and Roy McMurtry. Important too were Saskatchewan’s Howard Leeson, Alberta’s Peter Meekison, and countless other unelected officials who shunned the spotlight and have been largely ignored in the history books,” writes Azzi.
“Peckford’s account brings long-needed balance to the story. The patriation process was a complex series of manoeuvres, in which several individuals played pivotal roles. To credit only Trudeau, Chrétien, Romanow, and McMurtry is to miss a large part of what actually happened.”
Long-standing knowledge states that during a deadlocked federal vs. provincial conference in November of 1981, Chrétien, Romanow and McMurtry left the main negotiations and hammered out the semblance of deal in a kitchen.
This became known as the “Kitchen Accord,” and all provinces except Quebec eventually signed the Constitution Act that it spawned.
In his book, Peckford does not mince words regarding this version of history.
“This series of events got very mangled later by various commentators, journalists, ‘scholars,’ and authors and for thirty years the real story of how the deal came together was submerged,” he wrote on page 177 of his book.
According to Azzi, Peckford has provided sufficient evidence (reportedly coupled with followup investigation by the Canadian Encyclopedia) to warrant an updating of these events.
This does not diminish the importance of the Kitchen Accord, he adds, but simply “gives credit where credit is due.”
“People like simple stories, and the media and politicians oblige. Yet there was nothing simple about our constitutional drama of 1981,” he writes.
Peckford’s book, which tells his side of the patriation story, was launched Wednesday night during an event at the Battery Hotel in St. John’s.
The event was packed with people and Peckford got a standing ovation after reading a passage from the book. In it, he recounts a humorous story of having met one of only two Conservatives in an outport during an election campaign.
He’s been working on this book for more than five years, he said on Wednesday.
“This is an attempt to record some very important history,” said Peckford.
But in spite of how much attention the section of the book on the Constitution debate is getting — it only takes up a few dozen pages of the 367-page book.
Peckford also delves into the creation of the Atlantic Accord, in which he also played a significant role, and various observations and memories of his time in politics.
“It’s a book of many things,” said Peckford, “a coat of many colours. But the thread is that Newfoundland is important. And we have, by our own bootstraps, negotiated a deal which is the best deal we’ve ever had in our history on resource development. And we’re also great participants of Canada through the Constitution. And we have resilient, wonderful, people.”
“Some Day the Sun Will Shine and Have Not Will Be No More,” is published by Flanker Press Ltd.