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Encyclopedia > Meech Lake Accord

The Meech Lake Accord was a set of failed amendments to the Constitution of Canada negotiated in 1987 by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and the provincial premiers, including Robert Bourassa, premier of Quebec. It was designed to persuade Quebec to endorse the Canada Act. The Constitution of Canada is the supreme law in Canada. ... The Prime Minister of Canada (French: Premier ministre du Canada), is the head of the Government of Canada. ... Martin Brian Mulroney, PC, CC, GOQ, LLD (born March 20, 1939), was the eighteenth 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. ... A portrait of Robert Bourassa, taken during his second term as premier of Quebec (1985–1994). ... This is a list of the Premiers of Quebec, Canada since Confederation (1867). ... Motto: Je me souviens (French: I remember) Official languages French Flower Blue Flag Iris (Iris versicolor Linné) Tree Yellow Birch Bird Snowy Owl Capital Quebec City Largest city Montreal Lieutenant-Governor Lise Thibault Premier Jean Charest (PLQ) Parliamentary representation  - House seats  - Senate seats 75 24 Area Total  - Land  - Water  (% of... Wikisource has original text related to this article: Canada Act 1982 The Canada Act 1982 (1982 c. ...



In 1981, a round of negotiations led by Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau to patriate the constitution reached an agreement that formed the basis of the Constitution Act, 1982. Although this agreement passed into law, augmenting the British North America Acts as the constitution of the land, it was reached over the objections of Quebec Premier René Lévesque, and the Quebec National Assembly refused to ratify the amendment. However, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in the Quebec Veto Reference that the federal government could petition the British Parliament to pass the Canada Act 1982 as long as it had a substantial measure of provincial consent, and that the new constitution applied to all provinces notwithstanding their disagreement. In the end Quebec was the only province that did not favour repatriation. Name Pierre Elliott Trudeau Number Fifteenth First term April 20, 1968–June 4,1979 Second term March 3, 1980–June 30, 1984 Predecessor Lester Bowles Pearson Successors Joe Clark John Napier Turner Date of birth October 18, 1919 Place of birth Montreal, Quebec Date of death September 28... Patriation is a legal term particularly used in Canada, to describe a process of constitutional change also known as bringing home the constitution. ... The Constitution Act, 1982 (Schedule B of the Canada Act 1982 (U.K.)) is a part of the Constitution of Canada. ... The British North America Acts 1867–1975 are a series of Acts of the Parliament of the United Kingdom dealing with the government of Canada, which was known as British North America until 1867. ... The Premier of Quebec (in French Premier ministre du Québec, sometimes literally translated to Prime Minister of Quebec) is the first minister for the Canadian province of Quebec. ... René Lévesque (pronounced ) (August 24, 1922 – November 1, 1987) was a reporter, a minister of the government of Quebec, Canada, (1960 – 1966), the founder of the Parti Québécois political party, and 23rd Premier of Quebec (November 25, 1976 – October 3, 1985). ... The Quebec Parliament Building at night The National Assembly is the legislative body of the Canadian province of Quebec. ... The Supreme Court of Canada (French: Cour suprême du Canada) is the highest court of Canada and is the final court of appeal in the Canadian justice system. ... Quebec Veto Reference (Reference re Amendment to the Canadian Constitution) [1982] 2 S.C.R. 793 is a leading Supreme Court of Canadas decision on whether the province of Quebec has veto power in the patriation of the Constitution of Canada. ...

Brian Mulroney's election as Prime Minister and Robert Bourassa'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. A portrait of Robert Bourassa, taken during his second term as premier of Quebec (1985–1994). ...

The agreement

The accord was negotiated at a meeting between Mulroney and provincial premiers at Willson House at Meech Lake in the Gatineau Hills in 1987.[1] Meech Lake is a lake in the Gatineau Hills near Gatineau, Quebec, in Canada. ... The Gatineau Hills are a geological formation in Canada which represent the foothills of the Laurentian Mountains which stretch east through Quebec, beginning north of Montreal and joining up with others into Vermont and New Hampshire. ...

It identified five main modifications to the Canadian constitution:

  • a recognition of the province of Quebec as a "distinct society";
  • a constitutional veto for Quebec;
  • increased provincial powers with respect to immigration;
  • extension and regulation of the right for a reasonable financial compensation to any province that chooses to opt out of any future federal programs; and
  • provincial input in appointing senators and Supreme Court judges.

Because the accord would have changed the constitution's amending formula and modified the Supreme Court, 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. Canada consists of ten provinces and three territories. ... Distinct society (in French la société distincte) was a political neologism used during a constitutional debate in Canada, in the second half of the 1980s and in the early 1990s. ... Opting Out is a political expression that was formulated in Canada to describe the exercise of a province to assume a program (within its own jurisdiction) for which the federal government offers, in part or in integrity, a financing and an administration. ... The Supreme Court of Canada (French: Cour suprême du Canada) is the highest court of Canada and is the final court of appeal in the Canadian justice system. ... Amendments to the Constitution of Canada are changes to the Constitution of Canada initiated by the government. ...

Opposition leaders generally agreed to the Accord. Liberal Party leader John Turner was put into a tough position, considering the popularity of the agreement in Quebec (a traditional Liberal stronghold) and the Trudeau ideal of federal power. He soon agreed to the Accord, causing a rift in his party.[1] New Democratic Party leader Ed Broadbent also agreed with the Accord.[2]. Preston Manning of the upstart Reform Party opposed it, saying it gave Quebec unequal status among provinces.[1] The Liberal Party of Canada (French: ), colloquially known as the Grits (originally Clear Grits), is a Canadian federal political party positioned at the centre of the political spectrum, combining a progressive social policy with moderate economics. ... John Turner, PC, CC, QC, MA, BCL, LLD (born June 7, 1929) was the seventeenth Prime Minister of Canada from June 30, 1984 to September 17, 1984. ... The New Democratic Party (NDP; Nouveau Parti démocratique in French) is a political party in Canada with a social democratic philosophy that contests elections at both the federal and provincial levels. ... Hon. ... Preston Manning Ernest Preston Manning (born June 10, 1942, in Edmonton, Alberta), is a Canadian politician. ... The Reform Party of Canada was a Canadian federal political party founded in 1987. ...


When the Meech Lake accord was debated in the Quebec National Assembly, it was opposed by the Parti Québécois. After the ten provincial premiers agreed to the Accord, national public opinion polls initially showed that a majority of Canadians supported the proposed agreement [3]. However, by June 1990, the same polls showed that a majority now rejected the accord. [4]. Much of this decline in support was attributed to the "distinct society" clause, which some in English Canada saw as granting Quebec "special" status.[1] Bourassa's use of the "notwithstanding clause" of the Canadian constitutiton to set aside the Supreme Court's decision to strike down parts of Quebec's Charter of the French Language (which toughened the requirements for French predominance on signs) played into this; while an entirely constitutional move, it became a flashpoint for many federalist Canadians, particularly in English Canada. The Quebec Parliament Building at night The National Assembly is the legislative body of the Canadian province of Quebec. ... The Parti Québécois or PQ is a political party that advocates national sovereignty for the Canadian province of Quebec and secession from Canada, as well as social democratic policies and has traditionally had support from the labour movement. ... Section Thirty-three of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is part of the Constitution of Canada. ... The Supreme Court of Canada (French: Cour suprême du Canada) is the highest court of Canada and is the final court of appeal in the Canadian justice system. ... The Charter of the French Language (also known as Bill 101 and Loi 101) is a framework law in the province of Quebec, Canada, defining the linguistic rights of all Quebecers and making French, the language of the majority, the sole official language of Quebec. ...

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 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 keep 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. Trudeau redirects here. ...

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 the future of the country behind closed doors.[1] Of course, historically that had been the case, but in the post-Charter of Rights age this came to be seen as undemocratic. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a constitutionally entrenched bill of rights which forms part of the Constitution of Canada adopted in 1982. ...

Compromise and agreement

As the deadline approached, however, 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 elected the Liberal government of Frank McKenna, which revoked the previous government's approval of the Accord. Newfoundland Premier Clyde Wells would soon do likewise. Motto: Spem reduxit (Hope restored) Official languages English, French Flower Purple Violet Tree Balsam Fir Bird Black-capped Chickadee Capital Fredericton Largest city Saint John Lieutenant-Governor Herménégilde Chiasson Premier Shawn Graham (Liberal) Parliamentary representation  - House seats  - Senate seats 10 10 Area Total  - Land  - Water  (% of total)  Ranked... The Honourable Francis Joseph Frank McKenna, PC, ONB (born January 19, 1948, in Apohaqui, New Brunswick, Canada) is a Canadian politician and diplomat. ... For other uses, see Newfoundland (disambiguation). ... Clyde Kirby Wells (born November 9, 1937) is a Newfoundland and Labrador judge and former politician and Premier of the province. ...

With a matter of months before the Accord deadline, a commission led by prominent Tory Jean Charest recommended some changes to the Accord. This prompted Lucien Bouchard, 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 Québecois)] party. John James Charest (sha-ræ), PC, LL.B, MNA known as Jean Charest (born June 24, 1958) is a Canadian lawyer and politician from the province of Quebec. ... Lucien Bouchard, PC , B.Sc , LL.B (born December 22, 1938 in Saint-Coeur-de-Marie, Quebec, Canada) is a Quebec lawyer, diplomat and politician. ...

Arguably, the most pressure was on Quebec Premier, Robert Bourassa. To many Quebecers, 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 the people of Newfoundland before committing to the Accord. June 3 is the 154th day of the year in the Gregorian calendar (155th in leap years), with 211 days remaining. ... 1990 (MCMXC) was a common year starting on Monday of the Gregorian calendar. ...

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: July 1 is the 182nd day of the year (183rd in leap years) in the Gregorian Calendar, with 183 days remaining. ... 1995 (MCMXCV) was a common year starting on Sunday of the Gregorian calendar. ...

"We must never again implement this process for Constitutional reform. It is impossible for the eleven first ministers to do justice to the matters they have to consider, and it is grossly unfair to the 26 million people of this nation to have their first minister closeted and making decisions in a secret way without letting them know what was at stake, and the basis of the decisions were made."

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 Elijah Harper 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. The Legislative Assembly of Manitoba is located in central Winnipeg, at the meeting point of the Wolseley and Fort Rouge ridings. ... Elijah Harper (born March 3, 1949) is a Aboriginal Cree Canadian politician and band chief. ...

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 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. Thomas Gerald Rideout (born June 25, 1948) is a former politician and Premier of Newfoundland. ...


The defeat of the Accord was felt most in Quebec. In a speech to the National Assembly of Quebec delivered moments after the death of the Accord, Bourassa captured the nationalist sentiment of the moment: The Quebec Parliament Building at night The National Assembly of Quebec (French: Assemblée nationale du Québec) is the name for the legislative body of the province of Quebec, Canada which was defined in the Canadian constitution as the Legislative Assembly of Quebec (lassemblée législative de...

"...English Canada must clearly understand that, no matter what is said or done, Quebec is, today and forever, a distinct society, that is free and able to assume the control of its destiny and development."

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

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.

A variety of constitutional conferences and the efforts of former Prime Minister Joe Clark, resulted in the Charlottetown Accord, 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 referenda, but it was also defeated in most provinces including Quebec. Charles Joseph Joe Clark, PC, CC, AOE, MA, LLD (born June 5, 1939) was the sixteenth prime minister of Canada, from June 4, 1979, to March 3, 1980. ... Headline on October 27, 1992 Globe and Mail. ...

See also

Le Mouton noir (documentary film) This article is about the NFB documentary. ...


  1. ^ a b c d e John Geddes, "Meech Lake Ten Years After," Maclean's June 19, 2000, URL accessed 20 December 2006.
  2. ^ Gordon Donaldson, The Prime Ministers of Canada, (Toronto: Doubleday Canada Limited, 1997), p. 340.
  3. ^ http://www.empireclubfoundation.com/details.asp?SpeechID=1563&FT=yes
  4. ^ http://www.empireclubfoundation.com/details.asp?SpeechID=1563&FT=yes

A cover of the Canadian magazine Macleans. ... Gordon Donaldson is a Canadian author and journalist. ...

External links

  • The Meech Lake Accord
  • Barbara Frum interview with Trudeau for CBC's 'The Journal'
  • Video of the whole Bourassa's speech on SRC.ca (French) (English translation)
  • CBC Digital Archives - Constitutional Discord: Meech Lake

Constitution of Canada
v  d  e
Constitution Act, 1867
Division of powers | Peace, order and good government | Criminal law power | Trade and Commerce clause | Works and Undertakings | Property and civil rights | Disallowance and reservation

Canada Act 1982
Constitution Act, 1982
Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms | Aboriginal Rights clause | Amending formula

List of Canadian constitutional documents

History of the Constitution
Royal Proclamation of 1763 | Quebec Act | Constitutional Act of 1791 | Act of Union 1840 | British North America Acts | Statute of Westminster 1931
Constitutional debate
Fulton-Favreau formula | Victoria Charter | Meech Lake Accord | Charlottetown Accord | Calgary Declaration | Other unsuccessful amendments
Interpretation of the Constitution
Pith and substance | Double aspect | Paramountcy | Living tree | Implied Bill of Rights | Dialogue principle | Interjurisdictional immunity



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