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Meech Lake Accord

Meech Lake Accord

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The Meech Lake Accord was a package of proposed amendments to the Constitution
Constitution of Canada
The Constitution of Canada is the supreme law in Canada; the country's constitution is an amalgamation of codified acts and uncodified traditions and conventions. It outlines Canada's system of government, as well as the civil rights of all Canadian citizens and those in Canada...

 of Canada
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

 negotiated in 1987 by Prime Minister
Prime Minister of Canada
The Prime Minister of Canada is the primary minister of the Crown, chairman of the Cabinet, and thus head of government for Canada, charged with advising the Canadian monarch or viceroy on the exercise of the executive powers vested in them by the constitution...

 Brian Mulroney
Brian Mulroney
Martin Brian Mulroney, was the 18th Prime Minister of Canada from September 17, 1984, to June 25, 1993 and was leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada from 1983 to 1993. His tenure as Prime Minister was marked by the introduction of major economic reforms, such as the Canada-U.S...

 and ten provincial premiers. It was intended to persuade the government of the Province of Quebec
Quebec
Quebec or is a province in east-central Canada. It is the only Canadian province with a predominantly French-speaking population and the only one whose sole official language is French at the provincial level....

 to endorse the 1982 Canadian Constitution
Canada Act 1982
The Canada Act 1982 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that was passed at the request of the Canadian federal government to "patriate" Canada's constitution, ending the necessity for the country to request certain types of amendment to the Constitution of Canada to be made by the...

 and increase support in Quebec for remaining within Canada
Quebec federalist ideology
Quebec federalist ideology revolves around the concept of Quebec remaining within Canada, in opposition to the desires of Quebec sovereigntists and proponents of Quebec independence....

. Its rejection had the effect of energizing support for Quebec sovereignty
Quebec sovereignty movement
The Quebec sovereignty movement refers to both the political movement and the ideology of values, concepts and ideas that promote the secession of the province of Quebec from the rest of Canada...

.

Prelude


In 1981, a round of negotiations led by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau
Pierre Trudeau
Joseph Philippe Pierre Yves Elliott Trudeau, , usually known as Pierre Trudeau or Pierre Elliott Trudeau, was the 15th Prime Minister of Canada from April 20, 1968 to June 4, 1979, and again from March 3, 1980 to June 30, 1984.Trudeau began his political career campaigning for socialist ideals,...

 to patriate
Patriation
Patriation is a non-legal term used in Canada to describe a process of constitutional change also known as "homecoming" of the constitution. Up until 1982, Canada was governed by a constitution that was a British law and could be changed only by an Act of the British Parliament...

 the constitution reached an agreement that formed the basis of the Constitution Act, 1982
Constitution Act, 1982
The Constitution Act, 1982 is a part of the Constitution of Canada. The Act was introduced as part of Canada's process of "patriating" the constitution, introducing several amendments to the British North America Act, 1867, and changing the latter's name in Canada to the Constitution Act, 1867...

. Although this agreement passed into law, amending the British North America Acts
British North America Acts
The British North America Acts 1867–1975 are the original names of a series of Acts at the core of the constitution of Canada. They were enacted by the Parliament of the United Kingdom and the Parliament of Canada. In Canada, some of the Acts were amended or repealed by the Constitution Act, 1982....

 as the constitution of the land, it was reached over the objections of Quebec Premier
Premier of Quebec
The Premier of Quebec is the first minister of the Canadian province of Quebec. The Premier is the province's head of government and his title is Premier and President of the Executive Council....

 René Lévesque
René Lévesque
René Lévesque was a reporter, a minister of the government of Quebec, , the founder of the Parti Québécois political party and the 23rd Premier of Quebec...

, and the Quebec National Assembly refused to ratify the amendment. The Supreme Court of Canada
Supreme Court of Canada
The Supreme Court of Canada is the highest court of Canada and is the final court of appeals in the Canadian justice system. The court grants permission to between 40 and 75 litigants each year to appeal decisions rendered by provincial, territorial and federal appellate courts, and its decisions...

 had previously ruled in the Quebec Veto Reference
Quebec Veto Reference
Quebec Veto Reference [1982] 2 S.C.R. 793 is a Supreme Court of Canada opinion on whether there is a constitutional convention giving the province of Quebec a veto over Amendments to the Constitution of Canada...

 that Quebec
Quebec
Quebec or is a province in east-central Canada. It is the only Canadian province with a predominantly French-speaking population and the only one whose sole official language is French at the provincial level....

 never had, according to constitutional convention, a constitutional veto, and that no province did. The Supreme Court also ruled that the new constitution applied to all provinces notwithstanding their disagreement. Ultimately, Quebec was the only province that did not favour patriation.

Brian Mulroney's election as Prime Minister and Robert Bourassa
Robert Bourassa
Jean-Robert Bourassa, was a politician in Quebec, Canada. He served as the 22nd Premier of Quebec in two different mandates, first from May 12, 1970, to November 25, 1976, and then from December 12, 1985, to January 11, 1994, serving a total of just under 15 years as Provincial Premier.-Early...

's re-election as Premier of Quebec created a new climate, one that was different from the bitter opposition between Pierre Trudeau and René Lévesque. Bourassa gave five key "demands" for Quebec to "sign on" to the Constitution.

The agreement


The accord was negotiated at a meeting between Mulroney and provincial premiers at Willson House at Meech Lake
Meech Lake
Meech Lake is located within Gatineau Park in the Municipality of Chelsea, Quebec, Canada . The lake was named after Reverend Asa Meech, an early settler in this area....

 in the Gatineau Hills
Gatineau Hills
The Gatineau Hills are a geological formation in Canada that makes up part of the southern tip of the Canadian Shield, and acts as the northern shoulder of the Ottawa Valley...

 in 1987.

It identified five main modifications to the Canadian constitution:
  • a recognition of Quebec as a "distinct society
    Distinct society
    Distinct society is a political term especially used during constitutional debate in Canada, in the second half of the 1980s and in the early 1990s, and present in the two failed constitutional amendments, the Meech Lake Accord and the Charlottetown Accord...

    "
  • a constitutional veto for Quebec and the other provinces
  • increased provincial powers with respect to immigration
    Immigration
    Immigration is the act of foreigners passing or coming into a country for the purpose of permanent residence...

  • extension and regulation of the right for a reasonable financial compensation to any province that chooses to opt out
    Opting out
    Opting out is a political expression that was formulated in Canada to describe the intention of a province to remove itself from a program administered by the federal government, or to exempt itself from a constitutional amendment that would transfer its legislative powers to Parliament.Up until...

     of any future federal programs in areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction
  • provincial input in appointing senators and Supreme Court
    Supreme Court of Canada
    The Supreme Court of Canada is the highest court of Canada and is the final court of appeals in the Canadian justice system. The court grants permission to between 40 and 75 litigants each year to appeal decisions rendered by provincial, territorial and federal appellate courts, and its decisions...

     judges


Because the accord would have changed the constitution's amending formula
Amendments to the Constitution of Canada
Amendments to the Constitution of Canada are changes to the Constitution of Canada initiated by the government. Only since 1982 has there been an official protocol to amend the Constitution.- History :...

 it needed to obtain the consent of all provincial and federal legislatures within three years. Mulroney termed this the "Quebec round" of constitutional talks and promised future reforms after the Accord had been approved.

Opposition leaders generally agreed to the Accord. Liberal Party
Liberal Party of Canada
The Liberal Party of Canada , colloquially known as the Grits, is the oldest federally registered party in Canada. In the conventional political spectrum, the party sits between the centre and the centre-left. Historically the Liberal Party has positioned itself to the left of the Conservative...

 leader John Turner
John Turner
John Napier Wyndham Turner, PC, CC, QC is an English Canadian lawyer and retired politician, who served as the 17th Prime Minister of Canada from June 30 to September 17, 1984....

 was put into a tough position, considering the popularity of the agreement in Quebec (a traditional Liberal stronghold until Trudeau’s patriation of the Constitution in 1982; ever since, Quebec has not voted Liberal to such an overwhelming extent) and the Trudeau ideal of federal power. He soon agreed to the Accord, causing a rift in his party. New Democratic Party
New Democratic Party
The New Democratic Party , commonly referred to as the NDP, is a federal social-democratic political party in Canada. The interim leader of the NDP is Nycole Turmel who was appointed to the position due to the illness of Jack Layton, who died on August 22, 2011. The provincial wings of the NDP in...

 leader Ed Broadbent
Ed Broadbent
John Edward "Ed" Broadbent, is a Canadian social democratic politician and political scientist. He was leader of the federal New Democratic Party from 1975 to 1989. In the 2004 federal election, he returned to Parliament for one additional term as the Member of Parliament for Ottawa Centre.-Life...

 also agreed with the Accord. Preston Manning
Preston Manning
Ernest Preston Manning, CC is a Canadian politician. He was the only leader of the Reform Party of Canada, a Canadian federal political party that evolved into the Canadian Alliance...

 of the upstart Reform Party
Reform Party of Canada
The Reform Party of Canada was a Canadian federal political party that existed from 1987 to 2000. It was originally founded as a Western Canada-based protest party, but attempted to expand eastward in the 1990s. It viewed itself as a populist party....

 opposed it, saying it gave Quebec unequal status among provinces.

Opposition


When the Meech Lake accord was debated in the Quebec National Assembly, it was opposed by the Parti Québécois
Parti Québécois
The Parti Québécois is a centre-left political party that advocates national sovereignty for the province of Quebec and secession from Canada. The Party traditionally has support from the labour movement. Unlike many other social-democratic parties, its ties with the labour movement are informal...

. After the ten provincial premiers agreed to the Accord, national public opinion polls initially showed that a majority of Canadians supported the proposed agreement. However, by June 1990, the same polls showed that a majority now rejected the accord. Much of this decline in support was attributed to the "distinct society" clause, which some in English Canada saw as granting Quebec "special" status. Bourassa's use of the "notwithstanding clause
Section Thirty-three of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Section Thirty-three of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is part of the Constitution of Canada. It is commonly known as the notwithstanding clause , or as the override power, and it allows Parliament or provincial legislatures to override certain portions of the Charter...

" of the Canadian constitution to set aside the Supreme Court
Supreme Court of Canada
The Supreme Court of Canada is the highest court of Canada and is the final court of appeals in the Canadian justice system. The court grants permission to between 40 and 75 litigants each year to appeal decisions rendered by provincial, territorial and federal appellate courts, and its decisions...

's decision to strike down parts of Quebec's Charter of the French Language
Charter of the French Language
The Charter of the French Language , also known as Bill 101 and Loi 101, is a law in the province of Quebec in Canada defining French, the language of the majority of the population, as the only official language of Quebec, and framing fundamental language rights for everyone in the province...

 (which toughened the requirements for French predominance on commercial signs) played into this; while an entirely constitutional move, it became a flashpoint for many federalist Canadians, particularly in English Canada.

Arguments against the Accord also focused on the devolution of federal powers and control to the provincial governments. Former Canadian Prime Minister and arch-federalist Pierre Trudeau
Pierre Trudeau
Joseph Philippe Pierre Yves Elliott Trudeau, , usually known as Pierre Trudeau or Pierre Elliott Trudeau, was the 15th Prime Minister of Canada from April 20, 1968 to June 4, 1979, and again from March 3, 1980 to June 30, 1984.Trudeau began his political career campaigning for socialist ideals,...

 spoke out against the Accord, claiming Mulroney "sold out" to the provinces. Trudeau argued that Quebec, while distinct, was no more distinct than many other places in the nation. He also stated his belief that the federal government should oppose many provincial initiatives to change the balance of powers within Confederation. In a newspaper opinion piece, Trudeau wrote: "[T]he federation was set to last a thousand years. Alas, only one eventuality hadn't been foreseen: that one day the government of Canada would fall into the hands of a weakling. It has now happened." Some Liberal MPs called on Trudeau to be their "spiritual leader" against the Accord, further undermining John Turner's already fragile leadership.

Criticism was directed at the way the Accord was reached. They believed it lacked public sanction. The ten premiers and the prime minister came to be seen as "11 men in suits" dealing with the future of the country behind closed doors.

Compromise and agreement


As the deadline approached, the consensus began to unravel. Pressure from voters at home brought many premiers, especially those in the western provinces, under fire. The Accord became an issue in some provincial elections, as New Brunswick
New Brunswick
New Brunswick is one of Canada's three Maritime provinces and is the only province in the federation that is constitutionally bilingual . The provincial capital is Fredericton and Saint John is the most populous city. Greater Moncton is the largest Census Metropolitan Area...

 elected the Liberal government of Frank McKenna
Frank McKenna
Francis Joseph "Frank" McKenna, PC, OC, ONB, QC is a Canadian businessman and former politician and diplomat. He is currently Deputy Chairman of the Toronto-Dominion Bank. He served as Canadian Ambassador to the United States from 2005 to 2006...

, which revoked the previous government's approval of the Accord. Newfoundland
Newfoundland and Labrador
Newfoundland and Labrador is the easternmost province of Canada. Situated in the country's Atlantic region, it incorporates the island of Newfoundland and mainland Labrador with a combined area of . As of April 2011, the province's estimated population is 508,400...

 Premier Clyde Wells
Clyde Wells
Clyde Kirby Wells, QC was the fifth Premier of Newfoundland and was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador from 1999 to March 2009...

 would soon do likewise.

With a matter of months before the Accord deadline, a commission led by prominent federal Tory cabinet minister Jean Charest
Jean Charest
John James "Jean" Charest, PC, MNA is a Canadian politician who has been the 29th Premier of Quebec since 2003. He was leader of the federal Progressive Conservative Party of Canada from 1993 to 1998 and has been leader of the Quebec Liberal Party since 1998....

 recommended some changes to the Accord. This prompted Lucien Bouchard
Lucien Bouchard
Lucien Bouchard, is a Canadian lawyer, diplomat, politician and former Minister of the Environment of the Canadian Federal Government. He was the Leader of Opposition in the Canadian House of Commons from 1993 to 1996, and the 27th Premier of Quebec from January 29, 1996 to March 8, 2001...

, environment minister, and also chief Quebec lieutenant, under Mulroney, and others to leave the Progressive Conservatives. Eventually, they, and several disenchanted Liberals formed the federal Bloc Québécois
Bloc Québécois
The Bloc Québécois is a federal political party in Canada devoted to the protection of Quebec's interests in the House of Commons of Canada, and the promotion of Quebec sovereignty. The Bloc was originally a party made of Quebec nationalists who defected from the federal Progressive Conservative...

 party.

Arguably, the most pressure was on Quebec Premier, Robert Bourassa. To most Quebecers (at least 80% according to various polls conducted by newspapers at the time), the Accord was the bare minimum acceptable. Any weakening of the Accord would undermine Bourassa's position and possibly bring a large backlash from Quebec.

This prompted a first ministers conference on June 3, 1990 (20 days before the deadline of the Accord). After a week of negotiations, an agreement for further rounds of constitutional negotiations was devised to follow ratification of Meech Lake. All 10 premiers again signed the "new" Accord, although Wells said that he would have to consult with the people of Newfoundland before committing to the Accord.

The agreement promised:
  • A commitment to Senate reform by July 1, 1995. The proposed Senate would be elected, "effective" (having power over most bills), and be more representative of the other provinces. If a unanimous agreement was not made, the Senate would convert to Quebec having 24 seats, Ontario having 18, Prince Edward Island with 4, and all other provinces with 8 seats.
  • A guarantee to not weaken gender equality.
  • To give the Territories the power to nominate Senators and Supreme Court justices.
  • Future conferences on Aboriginal and minority language issues.
  • Later discussions on a "Canada Clause", how new provinces would be formed, and a new amending procedure.


During the meeting, Wells echoed the feelings of many in the country:
New Brunswick soon accepted the Accord, and Frank McKenna toured the nation to drum up support.

In Manitoba, however, things did not go as planned. With many First Nations protesters outside, the Legislative assembly convened to approve the Accord. Unanimous support was needed to bypass the necessary public consultation, and MLA
Legislative Assembly of Manitoba
The Legislative Assembly of Manitoba and the lieutenant governor form the Legislature of Manitoba, the legislature of the Canadian province of Manitoba. Fifty-seven members are elected to this assembly in provincial general elections, all in single-member constituencies with first-past-the-post...

 Elijah Harper
Elijah Harper
Elijah Harper is an Aboriginal Cree Canadian politician and band chief. He was a key player in the rejection of the Meech Lake Accord, an attempt at Canadian constitutional reform.- Early life :...

 raised an eagle feather to mark his dissension. Harper opposed bypassing consultation because he did not believe First Nations had been adequately involved in the Accord's process.

Even though a legal route was found to give Manitoba more time (the deadline would be extended three months, with Quebec being able to re-approve the Accord), Clyde Wells and Opposition leader Thomas Rideout
Thomas Rideout
Thomas Gerald Rideout served as the 4th Premier of Newfoundland.Born in Fleur de Lys, Newfoundland, Rideout was first elected to the provincial House of Assembly in the 1975 general election as a Liberal but left the party in 1980 to join the Progressive Conservative government of Premier Brian...

 agreed to cancel the planned free vote in the Newfoundland House of Assembly, because the outcome would have most likely been a refusal. The Accord was officially dead.

Aftermath


The defeat of the Accord was felt most in Quebec. In a speech to the National Assembly of Quebec
National Assembly of Quebec
The National Assembly of Quebec is the legislative body of the Province of Quebec. The Lieutenant Governor and the National Assembly compose the Parliament of Quebec, which operates in a fashion similar to those of other British-style parliamentary systems.The National Assembly was formerly the...

 delivered moments after the death of the Accord, Bourassa captured the nationalist sentiment of the moment:
The speech and other actions by Bourassa gave Quebecers the impression that the Liberals were open to all options, even the calling of a referendum on independence. Polls at this time showed a majority in favour of sovereignty-association. This would result in the Allaire Report
Allaire Report
The Allaire Report was a report written by the constitutional reform committee of the Liberal Party of Quebec, chaired by lawyer and politician Jean Allaire, recommending a significant transfer of powers from Canada's federal government to the Government of Quebec...

 and a promise to hold a referendum on sovereignty or a new Constitutional agreement by 1992.

Ontario Premier David Peterson
David Peterson
David Robert Peterson, PC, O.Ont was the 20th Premier of the Province of Ontario, Canada, from June 26, 1985 to October 1, 1990. He was the first Liberal premier of Ontario in 42 years....

 had played a prominent role in creating the accord and continued to support it in the face of growing opposition. This would eventually lead to a backlash in his own province. Though Peterson's association with the accord was not further highlighted by the media, the federal government was dealing with the fallout. Thus, the issue was still fresh in voters' minds as he called a snap election
Ontario general election, 1990
The Ontario general election of 1990 was held on September 6, 1990, to elect members of the 35th Legislative Assembly of the province of Ontario, Canada....

 in 1990, and it was partially responsible for his party's defeat.

Mulroney's popularity plummeted. The handling of the Accord was condemned by many people and the exhaustive and interminable debates over it caused a backlash against further constitutional negotiations.

In November 1990, Mulroney decided to seek the input of Canadians on the country's constitutional future by convening the Citizen's Forum on National Unity
Citizen's Forum on National Unity
The Citizen's Forum on National Unity was a commission established in November, 1990, by the Governor General of Canada on the advice of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney...

. The Forum was more commonly known as the Spicer Commission after its chair, Keith Spicer
Keith Spicer
Keith Spicer is a Canadian academic, public servant, journalist and writer.Between 1970 and 1977, Spicer was the first Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada. Appointed by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, he reported directly to Parliament as a non-partisan officer of Parliament...

.

A variety of constitutional conferences and the efforts of former Prime Minister Joe Clark
Joe Clark
Charles Joseph "Joe" Clark, is a Canadian statesman, businessman, and university professor, and former journalist and politician...

, resulted in the Charlottetown Accord
Charlottetown Accord
The Charlottetown Accord was a package of proposed amendments to the Constitution of Canada, proposed by the Canadian federal and provincial governments in 1992. It was submitted to a public referendum on October 26 of that year, and was defeated.-Background:...

, which contained many of the same proposals, along with concrete involvement of First Nations groups, a "Canada Clause", and an equal Senate. The Charlottetown Accord, unlike Meech Lake, was put to referendums, but it was also defeated in most provinces including Quebec.

Attendees


The attendees at the Meech Lake Accord were:
  • The Prime Minister of Canada
  • The premiers of each of the ten provinces of Canada

  • note that the two territories (at that time Nunavut did not exist) were planned to be invited but a week before the invitations were sent, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney stated that the territories did not have enough power to affect important decisions. They did, however, participate through video conference.

See also

  • Le Mouton noir
    Le Mouton noir
    Le Mouton Noir is a Quebec documentary produced in 1992 by the National Film Board of Canada . Jacques Godbout directed and starred in the film...

    (documentary film)
  • Distinct society
    Distinct society
    Distinct society is a political term especially used during constitutional debate in Canada, in the second half of the 1980s and in the early 1990s, and present in the two failed constitutional amendments, the Meech Lake Accord and the Charlottetown Accord...

  • Charlottetown Accord
    Charlottetown Accord
    The Charlottetown Accord was a package of proposed amendments to the Constitution of Canada, proposed by the Canadian federal and provincial governments in 1992. It was submitted to a public referendum on October 26 of that year, and was defeated.-Background:...


External links