Making "Pictures in Our Heads": Government Advertising in Canada

By Jonathan W. Rose | Go to book overview

Chapter Five
Selling the Patriation of the
Constitution

At the same time as the CUIO was attempting to beat back the forces of separatism, it was also involved with Prime Minister Trudeau’s long sought-after goal of repatriating the Canadian constitution. The day after the referendum victory in May 1980, Trudeau’s promise of “the renewal of Canadian federalism” made the patriation issue more prominent in the government’s agenda.1 As with the case of the Quebec referendum, there as been a plethora of books detailing the process leading up to the constitution’s patriation,2 but little about the government’s communications strategy. This chapter seeks to understand the way in which the federal government used advertising to persuade Canadians of the merits of the federal position in the patriation debate.

As a communication exercise, the 1980 referendum and patriation of the constitution are similar in some respects and different in other fundamental respects. They were similar in the techniques used but different in the way in which the advertisements were received by the public. While there was a high degree of consensus outside Quebec surrounding the goals of the referendum, the same could not be said for Trudeau’s “people’s package.” As a result of this, the advertisements, which used the same techniques as those employed during the referendum, were exposed to much public ridicule as a waste of taxpayers’ money and as an ineffective message. This chapter shall examine some of these advertisements as well as the Opposition’s criticisms of them in an attempt to demonstrate when and how government’s advertise on such symbolically significant issues as a constitution.

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