A failure founder for the following

Un échec fondateur pour la suite

The Meech lake accord, which would have made Quebec a “distinct society” within Canada, resulted in a failure 30 years ago, despite efforts by the prime minister at the time, Robert Bourassa. A few days of the national holiday, our columnist Antoine Robitaille revisits this historic event with those who lived through it. A series of columns to follow until Tuesday.

The Meech lake accord, signed in 1987 by Ottawa and the 10 provinces, led to a deep disagreement, about 30 years ago.

It was a failure, but that had huge consequences.

“Until the very last minute, it is believed to be able to save it “, remembers John Parisella, at the time head of cabinet of Robert Bourassa.

Un échec fondateur pour la suite

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John Parisella
Ex-head of cabinet of Robert Bourassa

For this liberal prime minister, like his vis-à-vis the federal government, the progressive conservative Brian Mulroney, the failure is very difficult to collect.

It was, after all, to reintegrate Quebec into the constitutional family where it had been excluded in 1982.

Mulroney, in his Memoirs (Les Éditions de l’homme, 2007), rumored to have lived the event as ” a death in the family “.

Mechanical constitutional

Why do we say that Meech is “dead” ?

Because it was a constitutional amendment submitted to the rules laid down by the Constitution.

However, the changes proposed in Meech (see box), including the capital, that Quebec constitutes a ” distinct society “, unanimity is required. In other words, the federal Parliament and each of the parliaments of the provinces must adopt a resolution ratifying the agreement. They had three years to do it.

According to the agreement, concluded on 30 April 1987 in the House, Wilson on the edge of the famous lake, Quebec, to mark his enthusiasm, eager to move.

The 23 June of the following year, the national Assembly ratifies (95 yes, 18 no). This starts the countdown of three years, for all the other legislative assemblies.

“We would have preferred to give them only six months,” recalls Gil Rémillard, at the time minister of canadian intergovernmental Affairs of Bourassa.


At a rapid rate, as is the case for any text of its kind, the agreement is criticized. In particular, by the former liberal prime minister, Pierre Elliott Trudeau (see the text tomorrow).

With his disciples, he will lead a tireless sabotage to convince the legislatures to not ratify Meech.

The Mulroney government will spare no effort for the adoption of the agreement.

In early June 1990, a constitutional conference of the last chance will be organised in the disaster.

At its end, all the prime ministers promise to sign the agreement. The two provinces will not, however, before the deadline of 23 June : the Manitoba and Newfoundland. The death knell has sounded for Meech.

“Fragmentation bomb “

This death and the three years of strife that preceded it have the effect of a ” fragmentation bomb “, according to the words of a journalist-biographer Pierre Duchesne. The parties lose pieces ; some burst.

Brian Mulroney faced several defections, including the major, his friend and minister of the Environment, Lucien Bouchard.

This last, with other ex-conservatives and liberals, would create the Bloc québécois in 1991.

The PLC also lost members of parliament, Jean Lapierre, as well as a mass of activists from quebec, whose current member of parliament for the CAQ Jean-François Simard, president of the youth of the quebec wing of the LPC.

In the West, in reaction to the alleged favouritism towards Quebec, Preston Manning created the Reform Party, which phagocytera the progressive conservative Party and lead to its near demise.

In Quebec, a fringe nationalist PLQ interprets the reluctance regarding Meech and his death, as a rejection of Quebec. They rompront the ranks red and create the Action démocratique du Québec (one of the bases on which François Legault will build up their CAQ).

Five conditions

Even in death, Meech will have effects, insists Gil Rémillard.

“It was worth it : the five conditions were put to the forefront. We sowed, and harvested in several sectors. “

There has indeed been changes in immigration, to which Québec will obtain the management, for example. This, however, is not engraved in the marble of the constitution.

Same fate for the “distinct character” of Quebec, recognized in 1995 by the House of commons in a motion. Then the quebec nation in 2006.

Recognition which had effects in some of the decisions of the supreme Court, believes Rémillard.

According to the former constitutional advisor of Bourassa, Jean-Claude Rivest, the constitutional recognition that Meech was planning would have been much more powerful in both legal and symbolic. “It’s called Quebec. And that, he will have to do it one day. ”

The famous 5 conditions

  • “The recognition that Quebec constitutes within Canada a distinct society. ”
  • Guarantee of the representation of québec to the supreme Court of Canada by the presence of three judges of the Quebec. In the Senate, the appointment of a senator would be from a list submitted by the province concerned.
  • The right of veto on any constitutional amendment and the right to retire with compensation of a federal program (cost-shared in a jurisdiction of the provinces.
  • Constitutional Protection agreements Quebec-Canada immigration.
  • To ensure the holding of a constitutional conference, annual , and where the overall reform of the Senate would be the order of the day.

The St. John’s electric 1990

After the failure of the Meech lake accord, more than 250,000 Quebecers have market on Sherbrooke street, in Montreal, for the défilé de la Saint-Jean-Baptiste.

A lot of the details surrounding the epic of Meech have been forgotten.

But certainly not the powerful sentence of Robert Bourassa, June 22, 1990, which expressed all the disappointment of a majority of Quebecers in the face of the rejection of the agreement.

“English Canada must understand very clearly that whatever we say and whatever we do, Quebec is, today and forever, a distinct society, free and capable of assuming its destiny and its development. “

Usually calculator, the liberal leader had, at the key moment, shown to be emotional, not to mention that his statement opened the door to the idea of rupture.

In the pool

Earlier in the day, Robert Bourassa went to do laps daily in a pool near the national Assembly when his chief of staff, John Parisella, the stops.

He said that among his advisers, there is a “consensus” that he had to “declare” the distinct society “, a concept key to Meech.

Bourassa approves and admits to having already an idea of what he will say. “It is next to the swimming pool as it was written,” says John Parisella.

An hour before you go to the blue Room and deliver his speech, he reads the sentence to his adviser, Jean-Claude Rivest : “I found it very good, no more. I had not seen that she would have this echo-there ! ” he remembers.

Un échec fondateur pour la suite

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Jean-Claude Rivest
Former adviser to Robert Bourassa

However, the speech is televised. As strange as it may sound to our time, since weeks, the constitutional negotiations were the headlines.

It was at the peak of a crescendo, the denouement of a plot, national.

The words of Bourassa resonate across Quebec and in the rest of Canada.

The blue Room, the leader of the opposition, Jacques Parizeau, did not return.

Pointing to his vis-à-vis with the words ” my prime minister “, he told the assembly : “we need to be able to find another way since the one he had chosen turns out to be a cul-de-sac “.

Then he goes to the other side of the Room and shakes hands with Robert Bourassa. The separatists exult. Have the impression that the leader of the liberal Party just changed camp.


We are the 22 of June at night. The next day, it is the eve of national day in Quebec.

In the last few months, the return of national feeling had pushed the organizers of the “Saint-Jean” to want to reconnect with old traditions : that of the great performances of patriotic and parade.

In Montreal, there has been no parade since the one of June 24, 1968, the eve of a federal election in which Pierre Elliott Trudeau had mocked the crowd, and where a violent riot had broken out.

In 1990, first show was held at Quebec on the plains of Abraham, the evening of the 23rd. The next day in Montreal, the rain force the postponement of the celebrations, but shows spontaneous organize.

The 25, it makes a perfect weather and a crowd estimated at between 250 000 and 500 000 walkers, takes to the streets of Montreal and wears t-shirts with the effigy of the YES of 1980.

Jacques Parizeau and Lucien Bouchard leading the way under a large banner, ” Our real country is Quebec “.

According to some, Robert Bourassa, who, of the building of Hydro-Québec, Sherbrooke street (where it had its offices), looking at the sea blue flags, was tempted to go join them.

But he finally gave up. “Robert had a brain,” insisted Rivest, who certifies as ever, in spite of appearances, his boss has not really been attempted to start the process towards sovereignty.

“But it did nothing to decrease the freedom of choice of Quebec, for the future. “

The choice is clear

The spectacle of the Saint-Jean from the 25th June to the island of Sainte-Hélène, Montreal, was attended by 140,000 people under the theme of ” Quebec at the gates of the country “. It featured Gilles Vigneault, Diane Dufresne, Paul Piché, Laurence Jalbert and Michel Rivard.

On the evening of 25 June, however, for many Quebecers, including a mass of federalists, the choice is clear.

This is Jean Duceppe, Gilles ‘father, who expresses in his speech patriotic, in the prologue to the spectacle of the Saint-Jean entitled” the gates of the land “, on the island of Sainte-Hélène : “The future of Quebec will be decided over in Newfoundland, in Manitoba or elsewhere ! “

Chronology of events

The cover of the Journal de Montréal on 26 June 1990.

20 may 1980 : quebec referendum on sovereignty-association. The non-wins to 59,56 %. Trudeau and the camp of the non-promise of a reform of federalism.

November 4, 1981 : agreement without Quebec, the patriation of the Constitution and the insertion of a charter of rights.

April 13, 1981 : the Constitution is promulgated by queen Elizabeth II in Ottawa.

4 September 1984 : the progressive conservatives of Brian Mulroney won the federal elections.
In Quebec, René Lévesque had agreed to the “good risk” proposed by Mulroney to bring Quebec into the fold of the constitution.

On December 2, 1985 : Robert Bourassa won the elections with the promise to reintegrate Quebec into the Constitution.

April 30, 1987 : the Meech lake, the 10 premiers and Brian Mulroney signed an agreement constitutional.

23 June 1987 : Bourassa to adopt a resolution in the national Assembly.

October 13, 1987 : election of Frank McKenna as premier of New Brunswick. He is the first to question the agreement.

15 December 1988 : judgment of the supreme Court, Ford c. Quebec, which declared unconstitutional the provisions on the display unilingual French bill 101.

December 18, 1988 : Robert Bourassa announces that he will use the notwithstanding clause to protect bill 101 judgment by the court. Pullback in the rest of Canada.

17 may 1990 : report Charest, which aims to convince the provinces recalcitrant to ratify the agreement.

22 may 1990 : Lucien Bouchard quit the Mulroney government (this last argues that he was fired).

9 and 10 June 1990 : negotiations of the last chance in Ottawa.

June 23, 1990 : end of Meech.

July 11, 1990 : the beginning of the Oka crisis.

4 September 1990 : creation of the Bélanger-Campeau commission, whose official name is Commission on the political and constitutional future of Quebec.

15 June 1991 : creation of the Bloc québécois.

28 August 1992 : Charlottetown accord.

October 26, 1992 : referendum on the Charlottetown. In Canada : Yes To 45.7 %, Non-54,3 % / Quebec : Yes, Up 43.3 %, Non-56,7 %.

25 October 1993 : the Bloc became the official opposition in Ottawa.

6 January 1994 : creation of the ADQ.

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