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I Am Skooter
So here's us, on the raggedy edge.
And the eyes they were / a colour I can't remember / which says more / from verse to verse
— A.C. Newman, There are Maybe 10 or 12
March 20, 2008
The Two Canadas

From Foreign Policy, Number 81, Winter 1990—1991 published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Written by Jeffrey Simpson. It’s interesting how much this post-Meech pre-Charlottetown paranoia has simply evaporated from the political system, despite the fact that Quebe politics continues to be dominated by le Bloc Québébois

Twenty-five years ago, a royal commission investigating relations between English and French-speaking Canadians warned that “Canada, without being fully conscious of the fact, is passing through the greatest crisis in its history.”…

Today, despite myriad institutional and policy changes over the past two and a half decades designed to smooth relations between French and English-speaking Canadians, the commission’s words still aptly describe Canadian reality…in the aftermath of the June 1990 collapse of a constitutional accord desired by the French-speaking province of Quebec.

The failure of the so-called Meech Lake accord…and especially the bitter debate outside Quebec has pushed support for Quebec independence, or at least increased sovereignty, to its highest levels ever.

…today many Canadians—and certainly a majority of the English-seaking ones—have not fully grasped how and why the Meech Lake trauma left Canada so badly shaken.

…Quebec is slightly over-represented in the Conservative party government of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, himself a Quebecker. No policies of the national government are considered so iniquitous or injurious in Quebec that the province should leave the country on their account.

And yet the threat to Canadian unity has never been more severe than in the aftermath of the collapse of Meech Lake…It is a crisis that envenoms further what the French observer André Siefgried…called in 1907 the “fears and jealousies” between English- and French-speaking Canadians. it is a crisis of confidence about whether Canada, after 123 years as a federal state, is still worth the effort.

The Meech Lake Accord was both cause and victim of these “fears and jealousies.”….

Meech Lake…crystallized a debate between two fundamentally incompatible views of Canadian federalism that Canadian politicians of every stripe had frequently attempted to fudge: the view in Quebec that the province deserved special recognition and particular powers because of its French-speaking identity; and the view elsewhere that all provinces must be constitutionally equal…This outdated idea left behind both multicultural Canadians, who now represent nearly a third of the population, and Canada’s aboriginal peoples, who felt excluded from the debate.

A poll by the Globe and Mail or Toronto and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation taken four months before the collapse of Meech Lake showed that 71 per cent of respondents knew little or nothing about the accord, yet a similar number professed strong or very strong views about it. A poll by the same organizations just after the accord’s demise showed that, despite months of media saturation, 62 per cent still knew little or nothing about the accord but a similar number had strong or very strong views about it.

Meech Lake had its political roots in a 1984 campaign speech given by [Brian] Mulroney…He promised to bring Quebeckers into the Canadian constitution with “honor and enthusiasm,”…

…For more than 20 years before the referendum Quebeckers had been debating their role in Canada; the referendum seemed to clinch their adherence to federalism. Mulroney perceived that if certain modest constitutional changes were made, moderate French-Canadian nationalists, including many who had campaigned for sovereignty-association, could be reconciled to federalism for a very long time.

…By promising to offer Quebec constitutional changes, he made the conservatives the preferred party for almost all French-Canadian nationalists.

Quebec presented five basic demands…Meech Lake was duly signed by the prime minister and the ten provincial premiers in the early spring of 1987….When Quebec’s National Assembly became the first legislature to approve Meech Lake on June 23, 1987, the three-year time clock began ticking.

At the time of Meech Lake’s negotiation and for some time thereafter, the accord scarcely touched the nation’s consciousness.

The first blow against Meech Lake was delivered by the father of the 1982 constitutional changes, former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. In a series of scathing public criticisms, he tore into the accord, claiming it would eventually grant Quebec special status…

Subsequent provincial elections in Manitoba, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland brought to power premiers who had not signed the original Meech Lake accord…Attempts were made for a year to find a solution to the impasse through public debate and federal provincial meetings culminating in a marathon six-day, closed-door meeting in June 1990.

…Nothing was more damaging in English-speaking Canada than a decision by the Quebec government in December 1988 to ban outdoor signs with advertising in both English and French…the Supreme court hinted that a law that gave French a predominant position on outdoor signs with another language less-prominently displayed, was acceptable.

…[Quebec Premier] Bourassa, worried about an upsurge of nationalist sentiment, invoked the “notwithstanding clause”…

The premier’s decision brought about the resignation of three respected English-speaking cabinet ministers…To [moderate English-speaking Canadians] the decision signaled Quebec’s apparent indifference to attitudes elsewhere in Canada, an indifference that hardened attitudes against what Quebec was seeking: the Meech Lake accord.

With Meech Lake the focus of Canadian attention, old grievances toward Quebec where aroused. In Manitoba citizens bitterly recalled a decision of the Mulroney government to grant aircraft maintenance contract to a Montreal company, despite a less costly and technically superior bid from a Winnipeg firm. In Newfoundland, citizens remembered a reprehensible hydroelectric deal by which Hydro Quebec took power from the rivers of Labrador for a pittance then resold it at a huge profit to the United States…

Since 1968, with two very brief exceptions, prime ministers have come from Quebec…The next election will also be between parties led by Quebeckers: Mulroney and Jean Chrétien, the new leader of the opposition Liberal party. Some of the popular resentment in English Canada can be explained by imagining the reaction in America if every president since 1968 had come from the northeastern part of the country.

…the more interesting and difficult question is, What does English Canada want?

The mutual misunderstanding that often bedevils relations between French- and English- speaking Canadians reflects the traditional, and quite erroneous, view in Quebec that the rest of Canada…resembles Quebec: a relatively homogeneous bloc of people that can easily come to a national consensus…English-speaking Canada is nothing of the sort…Approximately 50 per cent of the children in the Vancouver elementary school system are of Asian descent; in Toronto white Angl-Saxon Protestants are now a minority.

…Canadians face three concerns that have plunged English-speaking Canada into a crisis of identity…First, the Mulroney government has pursued an agenda of deficit-reduction, privatization and trimming of social programs….

Second, the free-trade agreement with the United States severely divided English-speaking Canadians…A slim majority of English-speaking Canadians opposed free trade, many of the bitterly and passionately…the French-speaking population harbored no fears of cultural assimilation or loss of political sovereignty…

Third, Meech Lake once again forced English Canadians…to accomodate themselves to proposed constitutional changes beneficial to a province whose chronic restlessness and indifference toward the rest of Canada made it a source of profound irritation…If Meech Lake passed, many English Canadians concluded, Quebec would simply use the accord to demand even more powers and gradually achieve soverignty-association.

…In Manitoba…One politician—Elijah Harper, the only aboriginal politician in the legislature—used procedural tactics to prevent debate…

The defeat of Meech Lake has changed Canada’s future. The constitutional status quo is finished, though no one knows what will take its place…

In Quebec…Eight members of parliament—six Conservatives and two Liberals—resigned from their parties to for le Block Québécois in the House of Commons and a candidate from the new block trounced the old-line parties in a summer by-election in Quebec…

A year may pass before the political battle lines are formed in Quebec…During the referendum campaign of 1980, the overwhelming majority of business leaders in Quebe were hostile to sovereignty. Many are now willing to accept whatever political option Quebec chooses…

The free-trade agreement has encouraged Quebeckers to believe they are no longer dependent on the existing Canadian federal system for economic prosperity….Quebeckers assume that if they opt for independence, they could easily negotiate a similar deal with Washington…

…After nearly 15 years of deficit-financing, the country’s national debt consumes about one-third of every tax dollar sent to Ottawa…

Canada’s prospects after Meech Lake are complicated by the erosion of the national arties’ ability to build bridges between the two major language groups and among far-flung regions…as le Bloc Québécois is grabbing natinoalist votes in Quebec, a new formation called the Reform party is making important gains in Alberta and British Columbia…

Canada, in its own modest way, has represented a noble political experiment that a country could be formed in defiance of the enormous economic and cultural pull of the United States…

At the core of that distinctiveness lay an accommodation between French- and English- speaking Canadians and a mixed economy in which government plays a more interventionist role in society than it does in the United States…the Meech Lake accord shattered, probably irrevocably, the possibility of a harmonious accommodation between French- and English-speaking Canadians.

Posted by skooter at 4:41 AM This entry is filed under Canada, Politics, Quebec.
This entry is tagged: Jacques Parizeau, Pierre Trudeau. Separatism, Referendum

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