The Meech Lake Accord
The Meech Lake Accord
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Prime Minister Brian Mulroney
The patriation of the Constitution in 1982 was done without Quebec's consent. With the Conservatives being voted into power at the federal level, and the Liberals gaining power in Quebec, constitutional negotiations were revived in an attempt to persuade Quebec to sign the Constitution.

HISTORICAL CONTEXT
The patriation of the Constitution in 1982 was done without Quebec's agreement. Quebec, being the only province not to sign the new Constitution, was nevertheless still bound by it. The federal elections brought Brian Mulroney's Conservative Party to power, while in Quebec, Robert Bourassa's Liberal Party had defeated René Lévesque and the Parti Québécois. In an attempt to persuade Quebec to sign the Constitution, a new round of negotiations were held in 1985.

SUMMARY
Quebec was willing to sign the Constitution as long as the changes it was proposing were accepted. Its proposals were separated into two parts. The first part involved including a statement in the Constitution that Quebec was a distinct society in Canada. The second part dealt with various issues to increase provincial powers with regards to the federal government. All the provincial Premiers agreed and signed the proposals, resulting in the Meech Lake Accord. However, the amending formula stated that in order to modify the Constitution, all provincial legislatures had to approve the Accord within a period of three years. In addition to recognizing Quebec's status as a distinct society, the Accord acknowledged that Quebec's minority Anglophone population and the minority francophone populations found across the country constituted a fundamental characteristic of Canada. The Accord also stated that the provinces would now play a role in the Supreme Court and Senate nominations. What's more, it also called for a mandatory First Minister's Conference to discuss certain points. Another point that was included in the Accord, and which was particularly important to Quebec, was that a province could receive financial compensation if it decided not to participate in a national program. Certain groups, including Canada's Native population, argued that they had not been included in the negotiations and demanded that the Accord be rejected. Despite this, most of the provincial legislatures accepted the Accord, with only Newfoundland and Manitoba's approval remaining. In Manitoba's case, unless it obtained the unanimous approval of all its Members of Parliament, public hearings would be required. On June 23, 1990, the deadline for signing the Accord, Elijah Harper, a Native Member of Parliament, refused to give his approval. The Federal Government then offered to push back the deadline, but this would force Quebec to ratify the document once more. This situation irritated Clyde Wells, the Premier of Newfoundland, and he refused to have his parliament vote on the Accord. This signified the death of the Meech Lake Accord.


Concepts
Constitution (or Constitution Act)
System of laws by which a State is governed. It is a country's fundamental law - the law of laws. Since 1982, the Canadian Constitution has also included a Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Province
Member state of the Canadian federation whose powers are defined by the
Constitution. The majority of provinces, particularly Quebec and Alberta, call for a more equal partnership with the federal government and less centralized federalism.

Distinct Society
Clause that Quebec wants to include in the
Constitution to recognize its status as the only francophone province in the Canadian federation. This clause would acknowledge the government's obligation to protect Quebec's unique status.

Federal government
Central government whose powers are defined by the
Constitution. Its role is to govern the Canadian federation and to look after national interests. It often comes into conflict with provincial governments.

Amending formula
Stipulation that allows the
Constitution to be amended. When the British North America Act was proclaimed in 1867, the British did not include a mechanism that would allow it to be modified. The inclusion of an amending formula was the object of intense negotiations.

Supreme Court of Canada
Tribunal created by the Parliament of Canada Act in 1875. Since 1949 it has been the highest court in Canada. One of its functions is interpreting the
Constitution and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Senate
The upper house of the Canadian Parliament whose members are named by the
federal government. Certain provinces demand to have legal authority over the nominations of senators, while others want them to be elected by the general public, like Members of Parliament.

First Ministers' Conference
Meeting between the Prime Minister of Canada and
provincial Premiers. According to some people, it provides a forum for improving relations between the federal government and the provinces. It is not written in the Constitution that such meetings are mandatory.