The Québec Independence Movement
An important constitutional development in 1969 was the OFFICIAL LANGUAGES ACT (see OFFICIAL LANGUAGES ACT (1988)), which declared English and French to be Canada's "official languages," and extended an array of government services in both tongues to all citizens. The election of the separatist PARTI QUÉBÉCOIS in Québec on 15 November 1976 emphasized that the threat of SEPARATISM was real, but in a referendum on 20 May 1980 Québec voters rejected the provincial government's SOVEREIGNTY-ASSOCIATION option by a margin of 60-40%.
PM Pierre E. TRUDEAU supported continued federalism by promising Québec constitutional renewal in the event of a negative vote. After a deadlocked federal-provincial conference, he announced on 2 October 1980 that Ottawa proposed to entrench unilaterally the core of a new Constitution embracing a domestic amending formula and a rights charter (the CANADIAN CHARTER OF RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS) which would replace PM DIEFENBAKER'S 1960 CANADIAN BILL OF RIGHTS. Trudeau emphasized that an amending formula had eluded federal-provincial negotiators since 1927.
The Debate Over an Amending Formula
The controversy in the 1980s pitted Ottawa and 2 provincial allies, Ontario and New Brunswick, against the other 8 provinces. Central to the debate was whether, by convention, provincial consent was required before an amendment could be obtained from Britain affecting provincial rights, privileges or powers. In September 1981 the Supreme Court held that although Ottawa had the legal power to present a joint address of the Senate and House of Commons to Westminster seeking an amendment, it was improper, by convention, to do so without a "consensus" (undefined, but at least a clear majority) of the provinces.
Since neither Ottawa nor the dissenting provinces had won outright, compromise was essential, and all parties except Québec reached agreement on 5 November 1981. Spokesmen for Québec argued that according to the "duality" principle the concurrence of both English- and French-speaking Canada was required for basic constitutional change, and that the absence of one "national" will constituted a veto.
All the other parties denied the existence of the "duality" principle in the form asserted by Québec. Left unresolved for future consideration were such knotty problems as constitutional revision of the division of powers and institutional reform of the Supreme Court, the Senate and the Crown.
The Meech Lake Accord
Québec's acceptance of constitutional reform seemed secured in June 1987 when the first ministers completed the text of the MEECH LAKE ACCORD (see MEECH LAKE ACCORD: DOCUMENT) reached earlier in the year on the initiative of PM Brian MULRONEY. Québec was recognized as a "distinct society" and its legislature and government was empowered to preserve and protect the province's distinct identity. English-speaking Canadians within Québec and French-speaking Canadians outside its borders were also constitutionally acknowledged.
In future provinces would have submitted names acceptable to the federal government for appointment by the latter as vacancies arose in the Senate and the Supreme Court of Canada. Only when the chief justice was appointed from among the sitting members of the Supreme Court was the appointment to have been an exclusively federal responsibility. Three of the 9 members of the entrenched Supreme Court were to have been Québec barristers trained in the province's distinctive civil law system.
Until unanimous federal-provincial agreement for change was secured, moreover, no change was to have been made to the Senate or the Supreme Court. Some people considered that this meant the end of any realistic prospect of Senate reform, although annual conferences of first ministers were to be held to consider reform of the upper house.
Where new initiatives were established by Ottawa under the federal spending power, such as a national day-care program or a minimum guaranteed annual income, provided that their alternative programs "conformed to the national objectives," provinces could get out and would have received reasonable compensation from Ottawa to fund their own programs.
The admission as provinces of the Yukon or the Northwest Territories was to require the consent of all federal and provincial legislative bodies, rather than just the agreement of Parliament and 7 provinces having half the total population, as in the Constitution Act, 1982, or the simple federal statute required before that date.
All provinces were also to have been given, in addition, a share in the immigration process. In order to be entrenched, Parliament and each provincial legislature had to accept the proposed Meech Lake text as it stood within 3 years after Parliament's enabling resolution was passed. Any change in the proposed text required unanimous agreement.
Collapse of the Meech Lake Accord
Public support for the agreement in 1987, according to polls, was over 66%. By July 7 the House of Commons (with a vote of 242 for and 16 against) and all the provinces except Manitoba and New Brunswick had passed the Accord. However, opposition grew in the media and among certain interest groups, particularly those representing native peoples, women's groups, Francophones outside Québec, and the territories (seeing the Accord as precluding them ever attaining provincial status). In October 1989 a Manitoba task force challenged the distinct society clause and other aspects of the Accord.
Meanwhile governments changed and new premiers such as Frank MCKENNA of New Brunswick voiced their opposition, although NB gave its approval in March 1990. Eventually opposition coalesced around the figure of Nfld premier Clyde WELLS, who strongly objected to the distinct society clause. His government rescinded its approval on 6 April 1990.
In desperation to save the Accord, PM Mulroney called the premiers together in June. On June 9 the First Ministers emerged with a signed agreement, though Wells's approval was conditional, he said, on the approval of the "Newfoundland people or the legislature."
When procedural delays initiated by MLA Elijah HARPER threatened to extend Manitoba's approval beyond the deadline, Wells refused to take a vote in the Nfld legislature on the grounds that the situation in Manitoba made it irrelevant. The deadline expired and the Accord died. The failure of the Accord left a sense of bitterness and frustration. Many Quebeckers interpreted its failure as a rejection of Québec and support for pulling out of Canada soared in that province.
The Charlottetown Accord
A new round of negotiations began even before Meech Lake died as in February 1990 the Québec Liberal Party established a committee to study options if the Accord failed (with Jean Allaire chair). In June Québec premier Bourassa announced that he would not attend constitutional talks and would only deal bilaterally with Ottawa. Later that month Bourassa and Jacques Parizeau announced a special Joint Commission to study Québec's relationship with Canada. Hearings began November 6 with cochairs Jean Campeau and Michel Bélanger.
Meanwhile, on the federal front, to answer criticisms that the constitutional process was too closed, in November 1990 Mulroney launched the Citizen's Forum on Canada's Future, with Keith Spicer chair. Finally in December a special 17-member Joint Senate-Commons Committee was created to devise a new amending formula, with Gerald Beaudoin and Jim Edwards cochairs. By December 8 provinces had established or completed constitutional investigations.
Bélanger-Campeau finished their hearings December 20, after some 200 briefs and 600 submissions. One of its first reports stated that the cost of Québec independence would be minimal. The Committee recommended that a referendum should be held on sovereignty in Québec by October if the province did not receive a suitable offer from the rest of Canada.
In January 1991 the Allaire Committee recommended that the Senate be abolished and that Québec receive exclusive power over communications, energy, environment, agriculture and regional development. The Québec Liberal Party adopted the Allaire Report in March, but substituted an elected Senate. In May the Québec legislature introduced a bill for a referendum to be held on the constitutional issue by October 1992.
To co-ordinate the various negotiations and recommendations, Mulroney named Joe CLARK minister responsible for Constitutional Affairs in April 1991. Yet another public forum was created in June when the Parliamentary Committee on the Constitution was created, with Dorothy Dobbie and Claude CASTONGUAY cochairs.
The Edwards-Beaudoin Commons Committee reported 20 June 1991 on the amending formula, recommending that
1) ratification of constitutional changes take 2 years, not 3;
2) a "regional" veto;
3) a national referendum for major changes;
4) unanimous consent for changes involving the monarch, language and provincial control of resources;
5) all other changes require consent of Ottawa, Ontario, Québec, 2 Western and 2 Atlantic provinces.
In June the Spicer Commission released its report, recommending that the government review its institutions and symbols to foster a sense of country, that Québec be recognized as a unique province, that there be a prompt settlement of native land claims and that the Senate be reformed or abolished.
In September 1991 the Dobbie-Castonguay Parliamentary Committee released its proposals in "Shaping Canada's Future Together." The proposals includes recognition of Québec as a "distinct society," entrenchment of ABORIGINAL SELF-GOVERNMENT within 10 years, the inclusion of a "Canada clause" in the Constitution, an elected Senate with more powers and "equitable" (not equal) representation. Castonguay resigned the troubled committee in November, replaced by Gerald Beaudoin.
In March 1992 the now "Dobbie-Beaudoin" Committee recommended a Québec veto on all constitutional change; recognition of Québec as a "distinct society"; rejection of a "Triple E" Senate but a recommendation for elected, effective and "equitable" Senate subordinate to the House of Commons.
Using the report as a basis for negotiations, Clark set a deadline of May 31 for Ottawa and the provinces to come up with a constitutional offer for Québec. He finally reached a deal with the 9 provincial premiers in July. The deal included a "Triple-E" Senate.
Collapse of the Charlottetown Accord
Clark's deal met with a lukewarm response from Bourassa, but it did bring him back to the table in August. The First Ministers emerged with the text of a new agreement on 22 August and finalized it on August 28.
The key points of what became known as the CHARLOTTETOWN ACCORD were a Social Charter, elimination of provincial trade barriers, a Canada clause containing committments to native self-government and recognition of Québec as a distinct society, a veto for all provinces on all changes to national institutions, a new 62-seat Senate (6 for each province and one for each territory) and 18 new seats in the House of Commons for Ontario and Québec, 4 for BC and 2 for Alberta. The Accord was rejected by 6 provinces and the Yukon in a national REFERENDUM on 26 October 1992 (see CHARLOTTETOWN ACCORD: DOCUMENT).
BC NDP responds to Clarity Act
Tue, 2013-02-19 06:07#1
BC NDP responds to Clarity Act
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