The Meech Lake accord was an agreement signed between the government of Canada and representatives of Quebec province in 1987. According to Barker (1), the main objective of the agreement was that Quebec province wanted the government of Canada to delegate to it the responsibility to control the reception and the integration of all the immigrants that come to settle in the province of Quebec.
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The accord was brought in so as to address the needs of Quebec province which did not ratify the first constitutional act of 1982 since the province claimed that it did not address the interests of the province. The five principle demands of Quebec province that it needed to be satisfied before it could sign the accord were:
- A constitutional veto which could make possible for a province to bloc any constitutional amendment
- The recognition of Quebec province as a distinct entity
- The right to grant provinces to present lists of people to be appointed as judges of supreme court
- The right to limit federal spending power, i.e. the allowance of every province to withdraw from the national program and to be given powers to create their own federal monies.
- That Quebec province is given autonomy and control over matters of immigration.
Main Analysis and Critique
This accord was ratified by eight of the ten provincial legislatures; it was rejected by the province of aboriginal and newfound land. These demands by Quebec province were so unrealistic since they did not factor in the needs, the opinions and the considerations of other provinces. This made the accord destined for failure of implementation.
The implementation of the accord was given a grace period of 3 years until 1990 so as to allow for public debate and the scrutiny of the accord. Majority of the public were ignorant of the accord and still were not aware of it after the collapse of the accord. The Meech accord is still an important event in the history of Canada despite its failure (1).
The failure to achieve the signature of two most influential and powerful provinces so as to enable for the adoption of the accord meant that the province of Quebec was still out of the federal constitutional framework and this cast its future in Canada into doubt because as the second largest province it has not yet signed the constitution. The failure of the accord revealed an unstable foundation of Canada’s political structure.
The sharp divisions between regions in Canada could inevitably make it impossible and unrealistic to achieve ratification of the accord by all the ten provinces. Since the accord was occasioned by failure of the Fifth Amendment to the constitution which sought only the recognition of Quebec province as an independent province, it was considered retrogressive in form especially in the era of post -charter since it sought to perpetuate the archaic practice in Canadian politics of recognizing only two of the historic groups of Canada.
The Meech accord elicited some popular criticism both of process and criticisms of substance. The constitutional amendment to the constitution through the accord was unwarranted and unacceptable due to the fact that the charter of rights and the formula of amending it had been ratified by Quebec province. This charter was to unite all the Canadians.
The charter gave leverage to the minority and the marginalized to have a say in the constitutional debate. The accord was considered a threat to the national unity by yielding to sectarian demands while ignoring majority say. As Esselment (2) remarks, the controversial clause that led to the failure of the implementation of the accord was the clause that demanded the recognition of Quebec province as a distinct society.
This was by fact considered impractical in country with two main societies: the French speaking society centered in Quebec province and the English speaking society that populate the areas outside Quebec province. Consequently, the accord was considered a fury and angered the aboriginal group and other ethno cultural minorities since they saw the accord as a plot to marginalize them and to leave them outside Canada. The accord discredited the founding nations of Canada and hence it was termed as detrimental.
The two provinces which failed to ratify the accord were interested in amendments to the accord that could safeguard the following three fundamental aspects of the Canadian country, these are: the charter rights, ethno cultural diversity and the equality of all the provinces failure of which it could lead to the destruction of the nation.
Whereas Quebec province might consider the failure of the accord as a betrayal by the English-speaking society, it may not hold water since it should be remembered that no province rejected the accord only that there were reservations raised by some provinces which required to be addressed so as to make the accord conform with the charter rights. The rejection of the accord served to foster the traditional nationalism in Canada.
There still exists a looming shadow of Quebec province regarding the ability of Canada to reconstitute itself. The failure of the accord brought to the fore the reality that any constitutional change should capture the multicultural aspect of Canada, the Quebec province, the English-speaking Canada and the indigenous population.
- Barker F. Learning to be a majority: negotiating immigration, integration and national membership in Quebec. Political Science. 2010;62(1):11-36.
- Esselment AL. A little help from my friends: the partisan factor and intergovernmental negotiations in Canada. Publius: The Journal of Federalism. 2013;43(4):701-727.