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Pierre Trudeau comes back to tackle Meech Lake

The Story

Prime Minister Brian Mulroney is a "weakling," the premiers are a pack of "snivellers," and the Meech Lake accord will bring nothing but dark days for Canada, according to former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. Just one week before the premiers will vote on an agreement that could bring Quebec into the constitutional fold, Trudeau emerges from his low-profile retirement and publishes a scathing analysis of the deal in the Toronto Star and Montreal's La Presse. Concessions have been made, he says, that will render Canada "totally impotent." Trudeau defends his comments in this Morningside interview. 

Medium: Radio
Program: Morningside
Broadcast Date: May 29, 1987
Guest(s): Pierre Elliott Trudeau
Host: Peter Gzowski
Duration: 38:29

Did You know?

• "Those Canadians who fought for a single Canada, bilingual and multicultural, can say goodbye to their dream. We are henceforth to have two Canada's, each defined in terms of its language," Trudeau wrote in his May 27, 1987, opinion piece.
• The next day, Mulroney responded by calling the personal attacks an outdated brand of politics. "You can have the old style of warring federalism, or you can have genuine co-operative federalism, on which we're trying to build a new country," Mulroney told the Toronto Star on May 28, 1987.

• Later, Mulroney would reflect on Trudeau's impact on Meech Lake's failure. "Mr. Trudeau successfully portrayed the accord as a concession to Quebec," he said. "He made a very personal attack on all of us - the prime minister and the premiers. And this is the man who will go down in history as having made the most sweeping concession in history - the notwithstanding clause that allows provinces to opt out of Supreme Court rulings." (Maclean's, June 19, 2000.)

• The proposed accord not only recognized Quebec as a "distinct society" but also allowed for greater power for the provinces. Under the agreement, the provinces would be granted the unprecedented power to make recommendations on the nominations to the Senate and the Supreme Court of Canada. The provinces also would have the power to opt out of federal social programs with compensation under certain restrictions. A formula to amend the Constitution was devised and a new federal-provincial partnership was established with regards to immigration.

• For more on the Meech Lake Accord, please visit our topic Constitutional Discord: Meech Lake.

• Critics of Trudeau said that his opposition to the Meech Lake accord was a defensive move to protect his legacy of the Constitution. Journalist Don MacPherson wrote, "Trudeau may be less concerned with actually stopping the Meech Lake agreement than with covering his posterior for history, to put it on the record that he opposed the defacing of the Constitution that represents the monument he erected to his own passage." (The Gazette, May 30, 1987.)

• Historian Michael D. Behiels observed that Trudeau's criticisms had a negative impact on public support for the Meech Lake accord. In June 1987, 45 per cent of Canadians viewed the accord positively. In October 1987, however, support dropped 10 per cent. ("Who Speaks for Canada?" Trudeau's Shadow.)

• Trudeau was also largely seen as opening the floodgates of dissent. After he publicly denounced the agreement, women's organizations, aboriginal groups, social activism collectives and civil liberty watchdogs all voiced their objections to the Meech Lake accord.


Pierre Elliott Trudeau: Philosopher and Prime Minister more