1982’s constitution and the Meech Lake accord

1982’s constitution and the Meech Lake accord

Meech Lake, Québec

I feel like we should discuss a subject which is still sore in the minds of many, which is that of the 1982 constitution and the failure of the Meech Lake accord. Understanding these two events and why they caused such emotion in Quebec is important to understanding both the cultural and political sensitivities of Quebecers.

You see, Quebecers were not opposed to the values proposed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms; the reason they did not agree with it is because it reduced Quebec to the level of a province “just like any other”. This may sound like a refusal to accept equality, but it is actually a desire to protect their own culture.

Quebecers feel that their culture is distinct from the rest of Canada’s to the point where they form a separate people. Hence, the charter would essentially be subjugating their culture to the rest of Canada’s, dooming it to eventual dissolution. To accept this charter, a substantial number of provinces needed to agree on it, and certain provinces (including Quebec) had a right of veto on it. Knowing that René Lévesque would never accept it, Trudeau waited for him to retire for the night, negotiated the infamous notwithstanding clause with Ontario and Saskatchewan in exchange for their right of veto, then had it adopted without Quebec’s approval. Lévesque would later go on to try and reverse it on the grounds that Quebec’s prime minister was not consulted and that the province had a right to veto it, to which the supreme court replied that Quebec never had a right of veto. Essentially, the adoption of the Charter was an imposition of the destruction of it own culture to Quebec. “Your culture does not exist, you are Canadians just like everyone else.”

The Meech Lake accord was an attempt to get Quebec to agree to the charter by adding amendments which would officially recognize its culture as distinct by giving it some powers to prevent the federal government from interfering in related sectors, namely education and immigration. Believe it or not, it was popular throughout all of Canada when it was first proposed; it essentially left the charter as is while allowing Quebec to have the last word when it came to what happened in their own province. However, Trudeau and his clique poisoned the public’s minds with fears of Quebec using its powers to subjugate Canada (something which the accord would not allow) and Quebecers having privileges over other Canadians (if you count “not having another culture dictating your laws” as a privilege) or, even more ridiculous, that Quebec was outright fighting against women and minorities’ equality. Campaigning against it was also the APEC (Alliance for Preservation of English in Canada), an extremist organization which claimed (and still claims) that the English culture of North America was threatened by the fact that people speak French in Quebec.

While Trudeau’s aim was simply to have Quebec be equal to the rest of Canada, the APEC’s was much more twisted: They wished for the polarization of the issue so the accord would fail, leading to a national crisis, as the group itself was, through Richard Pearman, its leader in Sault Sainte-Marie, tied to the Northern Foundation, an organization whose aim was the annexation of Canada by the United States. The accord would be neutered, causing Quebecers to reject it, but not enough for the rest of Canada’s liking, causing them to reject it too. There would later be an attempt to revive it in Charlottetown, an incident so embarassing it barely warrants mentioning.

These events still have relevance today, as one can see when some claim that Quebec’s provincial government’s proposal regarding religious symbols would simply be defeated at the supreme court. Some see it as the supreme court protecting the minorities from an abusive provincial government; others see it as one culture subjugating another by imposing its interpretation of equality and freedom on others. What remains to be seen is whether the rest of Canada will ever recognize that Quebec, despite being a part of the same country, constitutes a different culture with different values and sensitivities which are sometimes at odds with theirs.


Other articles by Lucky James:
The NDP and Jack Layton: Why?
Debunking the Myth of Quebec and Equalization Payments


JLLucky James prides himself as a moderate in a time where the polarization of issues and the rise of extremism of all sorts threatens to take over the social and political arena. Having studied a variety of subjects yet never truly dedicating himself to a single one, he now seeks to share what he has learned and observed throughout the years, hoping to break the echo chamber phenomenon to which the modern internet has given rise.

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