CANADA'S constitutional crisis is over.
The threat of French-speaking Quebec breaking away to form a
semi-sovereign nation has ended - for the time being.
After seven days of negotiations by the premiers of the 10
Canadian provinces and Brian Mulroney, prime minister of the
Canadian confederation, Quebec got what it wanted - a promise by
three holdout provinces to ratify the Meech Lake constitutional
accord that had been agreed to unanimously by all 11 governments
three years earlier.
"This is a happy day for Canada," declared Mr. Mulroney before
signing an agreed-upon document Saturday evening.
One after another, the 10 premiers, including Quebec Premier
Robert Bourassa, gave speeches, often in French and English,
affirming Canadian unity. For the sake of national unity, the
premiers of the three holdout provinces - New Brunswick, Manitoba,
and Newfoundland - had to drop earlier demands for changes in the
However, they did win promises from Quebec and the heads of the
other governments to consider reform of Canada's appointed Senate
and other constitutional changes in the future.
The goal of the western and Atlantic provinces is to win an
elected Senate that would give them greater representation in
Ottawa. Seating in the House of Commons is based largely on
population. So Quebec and Ontario, where some 56 percent of
Canadians live, often dominate Canadian politics.
The Meech Lake accord brings Quebec voluntarily within the
Canadian Constitution. From confederation in 1867 until 1982, the
Canadian Constitution was a statute of the British parliament. It
was "patriated" to Ottawa in 1982. But Quebec, then ruled by a Parti
Quebecois government that sought greater separation from the
remainder of Canada, did not sign the revised Constitution. This was
primarily because the Quebec government feared that an addition to
the Constitution, a Charter of Rights, might interfere with its
right to promote French and limit the use of English in the
province. Nonetheless, Quebec has been subject to the Constitution.
Legislatures of the three holdout provinces must ratify the
accord by a deadline of June 23. Though Newfoundland Premier Clyde
Wells said he did not approve of the accord, he did promise to take
it before his Cabinet for a decision on whether to call a referendum
or simply bring it before the provincial legislature. That cabinet
session was scheduled for yesterday.
The so-called "First Ministers" conference was influenced by
provincial politics as well. Political experts say the premiers of
Quebec as well as those of the three holdout provinces have emerged
as "heroes" in their provinces.
Mr. Bourassa emphasizes that the Meech Lake Accord - which
defines Quebec as a "distinct society" - was left untouched. …