L. The Meech Lake Accord

Author:Patrick J. Monahan - Byron Shaw

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The failure of the Quebec government to consent to the enactment of the 1982 constitutional changes did not affect the legal validity of the amendments in that province. Nor did the enactment of these changes over the objections of the Quebec government violate any constitutional convention requiring Quebec’s consent.77Despite the legal

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effectiveness of the 1982 constitutional package, however, many federalist politicians and opinion leaders, both inside and outside the province of Quebec, argued that it was important eventually to obtain the consent of the Quebec government to the 1982 constitutional reforms.78

In the 1984 federal election campaign, Brian Mulroney pledged that, if elected prime minister, he would attempt to reach an accommodation with the Quebec government that would enable Quebec to voluntarily accept the 1982 constitution "with honour and enthusiasm."79In the 1985 provincial election in Quebec, Robert Bourassa obtained a mandate to undertake negotiations designed to permit Quebec to "sign" the 1982 constitution. Then, in May 1986, the new Quebec minister of intergovernmental affairs, Gil Rémillard, outlined five changes that would have to be made to the Canadian constitution to make it acceptable to the Liberal government in Quebec City: (1) recognition of Quebec as a distinct society; (2) a greater role for Quebec in immigration to the province; (3) a role for Quebec in appointments to the Supreme Court of Canada; (4) limitations on the ability of the federal government to spend money in areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction; and (5) a veto for Quebec over future constitutional changes.

In the summer of 1986, the annual premiers conference issued a communiqué stating that the participants’ "top constitutional priority is to embark immediately upon a federal-provincial process, using Quebec’s five proposals as a basis of discussion, to bring about Quebec’s full and active participation in the Canadian federation."80Negotiations

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began in the fall of 1986, and concluded with an agreement in principle between all first ministers after an eleven-hour meeting at Meech Lake, Quebec, on 30 April 1987.

Reflecting Quebec’s desire to be recognized as a distinct society, the Meech Lake Accord proposed to add a clause to the Constitution Act, 1867 stating that the Constitution of Canada "shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with ... the recognition that Quebec constitutes within Canada a distinct society." This distinct-society clause also "affirmed the role" of the Quebec government and legislature to "preserve and promote" this distinct identity. However, the recognition of Quebec’s distinct identity was balanced by a recognition that "English-speaking Canadians, concentrated outside Quebec [but also present in Quebec, constitute] a fundamental characteristic of Canada." All legislatures affirmed their role to "preserve" this fundamental characteristic. The distinct-society clause also specified that it did not take away any existing federal...

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