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1990: Manitoba MLA Elijah Harper votes against Meech Lake Accord

The Story

Manitoba premier Gary Filmon asks the legislature to start the debate on whether to support or block the accord. Because of time pressures, he asks the MLAs to waive a two-day waiting period formality. But MLA Elijah Harper, frustrated with the exclusion of Indigenous issues in the accord talks, refuses. With an eagle feather raised, Manitoba's lone Indigenous MLA voices his opposition to Meech. "No leave, Mr. Speaker," he says to the legislature, as shown in this CBC Television report. This procedural interruption has grave consequences for the Meech Lake accord. With the June 23 deadline quickly approaching, the Manitoba Legislature would have only nine days to come to a consensus as to whether they should block or support the contentious accord -- an impossible task. Shortly after Harper's protest, Newfoundland's Clyde Wells announced that he would not seek a vote of approval in his legislature. The Meech Lake accord is dead.

Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: June 12, 1990
Guests: Gary Filmon, Elijah Harper
Host: Peter Mansbridge
Reporter: Sasša Petricic
Duration: 2:06

Did You know?

• Elijah Harper and Phil Fontaine, former head of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, devised their protest plan together. Fontaine later explained to Maclean's that they didn't oppose special status for Quebec but were instead angry that special status for Indigenous Peoples was not recognized as well. "Our particular concern," Fontaine said, "was with the further imposition of the Big Lie that Canada was made up of two founding nations, two official languages."

• "We need to let Canadians know that we have been shoved aside. We're saying that Aboriginal issues should be put on the priority list." – Elijah Harper, June 12, 1990.

• In 1981, Elijah Harper was elected NDP MLA for Rupertsland, Man. In 1986, he became minister without Portfolio responsible for Native Affairs and a year later he was appointed minister of Northern Affairs for Manitoba. In 1993, Harper crossed over into federal politics and served as Churchill's Liberal MP through 1997.

• Elijah Harper was born March 3, 1949, in Sucker Lake, Man., and he died May 17, 2013, in Ottawa.


Constitutional Discord: Meech Lake more