and Meech Lake
"Is an anti-Quebec backlash taking form merely a few hours after the Prime Minister, Mr. Robert Bourassa, took recourse in the notwithstanding clause to maintain unilingual French signs outside of commercial establishments? This is the easy hypothesis being reached as the head of the government of Manitoba withdraws the resolution of support for the Meech Lake Accord. At this stage where everything seems confusing and discordant, some comments must be made.
First of all, let us recognise that Mr. Garry Filmon seized with great skill, if not machiavelically, this pretext offered to him by his Quebec counterpart. It had become evident, in the last few days, that the Manitoba legislature would refuse to support the Meech Lake Accord.
The Liberal leader of Opposition, Mrs Sharon Carstairs, clearly stated, last week, during The Journal, on the English CBC network that the most important reason for her opposition was the recognition of the status of "distinct society" for Quebec. Whether there is a notwithstanding clause or not, she does not want to hear about this clause. One rather prefers this truthfulness to the threat that a distinct Quebec would pose to women, natives or federalism. Everything is clear, crystal clear: Mrs Carstairs, and the New democrats likely as well, did the dirty job that others had failed to do.
The Prime Minister of Manitoba was spared a sharp defeat, one that would have definitely sealed the fate of this agreement negotiated in June of 1987. He attributes the withdrawal to Quebec which by its actions negated "the spirit of Meech". This is to go a little far. One should not forget the laws adopted by Saskatchewan and Alberta following just as solemn a decision by the Supreme Court. The rights of the francophones of these two provinces were struck from the law books and such action is not limited in time, as is the notwithstanding clause of the Federal Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The francophones of these two Western provinces have lost permanently the rights that had been guaranteed by constitutional enactment since the end of the last century.
It would be trite and repetitive to come back, ad nauseam, to the fate of the francophone minorities in the rest of Canada and to compare it to the treatment accorded to anglophones in Quebec, with or without a notwithstanding clause. In this respect, Quebec can hold its head high, although this does not preclude multiplying our efforts to reach an agreement with the anglophones of Quebec.
From now until June 1990, heads will have time to cool. Otherwise, the Canadian federation will celebrate its 125th anniversary with one of its founding members in the penalty box. The caravan of history will come by again, near Meech Lake or elsewhere.
© 1999, for the translation, Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College