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Meech Lake: An agreement - in principle

Unfinished business brought the First Ministers back to the constitutional bargaining table in 1987. Many Canadians felt uneasy about Quebec's exclusion from the 1982 Constitution and so the negotiations began again under the leadership of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney with the Meech Lake Accord. CBC Archives examines the backroom lockdowns, the "distinct society" debate and the ultimate undercurrent of constitutional discord.

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Welcome home Quebec. This sentiment of goodwill floods across the country as news of a more inclusive constitutional agreement is announced. Following an intensive bargaining session at Meech Lake, Que., Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and the ten provincial premiers have struck a deal to bring Quebec back into the constitutional fold, as shown in this CBC Television report.

As requested by Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa, the Constitution must recognize Quebec as a "distinct society" and allow a greater role for the provinces to determine immigration policy and Supreme Court appointments. The Constitution must also define a set of limitations on federal spending power and permit a constitutional veto for Quebec. While the participants express pride in the tentative settlement, they aren't overly confident and indicate that this is the first of many more meetings to come.
• Between 1763 and 1867, Canada was governed by the following five Constitutions: The 1763 Royal Proclamation, the 1774 Quebec Act, the 1791 Constitutional Act, the 1840 Act of Union and the 1867 British North America Act. For a history of Canada's constitutional evolution from Confederation through 1964, please consult Canada's Constitutional Debate: What Makes a Nation.

• Canadian politicians continued to struggle with the constitutional question from the 1960s through the 1980s. Pierre Trudeau's government actively struggled to strike a balance of provincial and federal power. After much wrangling, the premiers and the federalists agreed to patriate the Constitution and develop a codified Charter of Rights. But Quebec's René Lévesque refused to endorse the agreement. A gaping hole consequently persisted in Canada's national unity. For a history of this constitutional progression, please consult Charting the Future: Canada's New Constitution.

• In 1984, Prime Minister Mulroney included in his campaign platform a pledge to improve the Constitutional Act of 1982 and bring Quebec back into the constitutional family with "enthusiasm and dignity." Many believed that this vow showed that Mulroney was more conciliatory than former prime minister Pierre Trudeau. In 1985, Quebec Liberal Robert Bourassa agreed to negotiate further with the federalists. One year later, Gil Remillard, Quebec Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, drafted the five conditions required for Quebec to sign the 1982 Constitution Act.

• On May 1, 1987, Brian Mulroney summarized the accomplishments made at Meech Lake in the House of Commons. "Mr. Speaker," he said, "Sir Wilfred Laurier once said: 'The governing motive of my life has been to harmonize the diverse elements which compose our country.' Surely that is the wish of every member, on all sides of this house. That is our policy. That is our purpose - building a stronger Canada for all Canadians."

• In May 1987, federal Liberal leader John Turner expressed misgivings over the proposed accord. He said that Senate reforms had been unduly placed in a constitutional straightjacket because of the accord's parameters. Federal leader Ed Broadbent also expressed concern that Canadian Aboriginals had been excluded from the negotiations. Separatist Parti Quebecois Leader Jacques Parizeau balked at negotiating with the federalists.
Medium: Television
Stock-shot
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: April 30, 1987
Guest(s): Robert Bourassa, John Buchanan, Grant Devine, Don Getty, Joe Ghiz, Brian Mulroney, Brian Peckford, David Peterson, Bill Vander Zalm
Host: Knowlton Nash
Reporter: David Halton
Duration: 2:59

Last updated: May 21, 2013

Page consulted on November 4, 2014

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