The Meech Lake Accord was an attempt by Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney to get Quebec to sign the 1982 Constitution. Quebec, led by Premier Robert Bourassa, submitted five demands. The first demand, a formal voice of Quebec in Supreme Court appointments. Second, say on immigration policy toward Quebec.
Others demands include: limits to federal spending powers in areas of provincial jurisdiction, veto power on constitutional amendments affecting provinces and most important, the recognition of Quebec as a "distinct" society. The Meech Lake Accord was in fact an amendment to the Canadian Constitution; therefore both Parliament and all ten provinces had to pass the amendment. The accord signed by all ten Provincial Premiers and Prime Minister Mulroney in 1987 then had to pass in both the Canadian Parliament and all ten provincial legislatures. Thus the first reason why the Meech Lake Accord did not pass was because of unanimity among all ten provinces when amendments are proposed, which is extremely difficult to obtain on such a controversial issue as Meech Lake.
There are many reasons why the Meech Lake Accord was not ratified into law. One reason was the fact that many minorities within Canada thought that giving Quebec the title "distinct" would relegate other minorities to a lesser status. Ontario, the largest English speaking province also rejected this "distinct" society clause on the same grounds as did Manitoba for fear that Anglophone Canadians would be relegated to a lesser status within government. Another issue that relates toward the Charter of Rights' and Freedoms and Quebec as a "distinct" society act 178. Act 178, passed in Quebec, was a law that pacified Act 101.
Act 101 was legislation that made French the usual language of business, work, instruction, communication and trade within Quebec. Obviously this law angered English Canada because it violated the Charter of Rights' and Freedoms under the 1982 Constitution, that gave all Canadians equality. With Meech Lake approaching, Premier Bourassa sought to pacify Act 101 by implementing Act 178. Act 178, passed on December 23, 1988, legalized languages other than French for commercial signs inside but not outside of commercial buildings, and only if they were in smaller letters than the French translation.
This law did not in any way relieve the anger of English Canada and as a result of this blatant discrimination against non-Francophones within Quebec; many English speaking Canadians resisted and condemned the Meech Lake Accord. Another reason why the Meech Lake Accord failed was because too much federal power was being taken way and given to Quebec and thus the other provinces. Once Quebec received all those powers mentioned in the Meech Lake Accord, the other nine provinces would have wanted them also, thus taking federal power away and giving it to the ten provinces (Jackson 219). Regionalism would start to take place and the idea of a strong federation would cease to exist any longer. First, Quebec would be relegated as "distinct" with its own immigration laws, unilingual ism, provincial control over federal spending within Quebec and its veto on constitutional amendments, then Quebec would want to break off from Canada politically but stay economically allied. English Canada didn't know when Quebec would stop demanding concessions.
To English Canada, Quebec was just one of ten provinces, which had to abide by the 1982 Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Quebec thought that they were essentially half of Canada, one half being English, the other French, and was thus under-represented in Ottawa. To Quebec, the only way to cure this problem was to demand the amendments within the Meech Lake Accord. Many Quebecer's argue that those five amendments were not enough and should be expanded upon, while English Canada thinks that those five amendments are too much.
This confusion to where Quebec falls into Canada ultimately led to the failure of the Meech Lake Accord (Lemco 21). The Meech Lake Accord also failed largely because of the fact that the officials making the accord did not consult other parties. The amendment process only included top officials. Some provincial officials went back home because there was nothing for them to d. The public was not consulted either because politicians thought the context was too conducive. Many Western and Atlantic provincial proposals were not dealt with such as the opposition by Manitoba to limit federal spending (Lemco 24).
Consultation was also not given to minorities, as I have noted above. If officials would have consulted minority groups, Meech Lake could have passed in Manitoba. Although the Meech Lake Accord failed, there can be many lessons learned from its failure. Some possible remedies for the Meech Lake failure are to get Quebec and English Canada on the same wavelength. Ottawa must not discriminate against or favor any specific province or region. Ottawa must implement uniform legislation where appropriate and in other areas in a fair and just manner.
Each province must be able to propose amendments and receive some of those proposals in legislation, regarded that the proposal doesn't hinder another region or Canada as a whole. All ten provinces must put aside provincialism and regionalism and regionalism and cooperate for the mutual benefit of Canada. The Charter of Rights' and Freedoms must be effectively and fairly implemented in all of Canada including Quebec. If Francophones want additional powers then other minority groups must be entitled to them as well.
Discrimination Quebec on non-Francophones must be stopped and this goes for French discrimination within English Canada as well. Business', schools, television, radio, street signs and other infrastructure must become bilingual. That means both French and English street signs from Victoria, British Columbia to Quebec City, Quebec. If there is a chance to make further amendments to the Constitution, at the magnitude of the Meech Lake Accord, then the consultation of Canadian citizens including natives, women, Francophones, Anglophones, Allophones, immigrants and political advisors from various regions and with different perspectives must be attained if there is any hope for success. With the failure of the Meech Lake Accord and the future failure of the Charlottetown Accord these remedies will be very difficult to reach within Canada.
This will be a very difficult task due to the deep separation of English Canada and Quebec in the past, but in order to preserve Canada the two sides must cooperate with each other and decide what is best for Canada.