Sample History Research Paper on Canada’s Attempt to bring Quebec into Constitution Act of 1982

Canada’s Attempt to bring Quebec into Constitution Act of 1982

Canada’s Attempt to bring Quebec into Constitution Act of 1982: Reasons behind the two failure accords. What Canadians should do to obtain Quebec’s consent?


One of the major policy issues that Canada encountered during the latter half of the 20th century is the country’s attempt to bring Quebec into the Constitution Act of 1982 through two accords: Meech Lake and the Charlottetown accords. This attempt was largely a failure. This briefing looks at some of the Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords as well asthings Canadians should do to obtain Quebec’s consent.

When the review committee introduced it, the Constitution Act of 1982 became part of the country’s process of assuming powers from GreatBritain, her former mother country.The Constitution Act of 1982 was a landmark development in Canadian history and legislature, which enshrined the country’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the constitution, thereby allowing the citizens to amend their own constitution without necessarily seeking approval from Britain (Library of Parliament (Research Branch 10). This was a significant event as one of the final steps to solidifying the country’s autonomy from its imperial roots.

The Constitution Act introduced many amendments with detailed divisions of power to various states or regions.Although the majority of provinces includingNunavut, British Columbia, Ontario, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan accepted the new Act, Quebec on the contrary perceived Constitution Act of 1982 as a rebuff. As a result, the government of Quebec has never formally approved its enactment – following this challenge, Meech Lake, and Charlottetown accords were drafted to obtain Quebec’s consent regarding the Act.

(a) Meech Lake Accord

The 11 premiers developed the Meech Lake Accord and designed it to get Quebec’s approval for implementing the requirements of the Constitution Act.In 1987, it introduced and negotiated diverse amendments in Canada’s constitutionthat intended to persuade the government of Quebec to endorse the Act, primarily by decentralizing the national federation to some extent. By design, the Meech Lake Accord included treating Quebec as a distinct society to providefor the province a means of entering the Constitution Act with dignity – this eventually operated as an interpretative clause over the course of the entire constitution. In addition, it required all the provinces of Canada to be give independent right to nominate judges for the country’s Supreme Court (LaSelva 65).

The proposed amendments were remarkably popular amongst the majority of the political leaders and it was hoped that Quebec would accept it, at least initially. However, some sectors such as Aboriginal groups and feminist groups as well as Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau raised serious concerns of lack of citizen involvement in the process and drafting of the Accord. Support for the accord started declining and changes in the makeup of the governments in Manitoba, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland eventually saw new people in office who were not in favour of Meech Lake. As the position grew stronger, many politicians started disfavouring the Accord and finally it failed to pass the ratification process.However, the Accord is still significant even today because it is a serious attempt of bringing all the Canadians together and creating unity and harmony in the national governance and leadership.

Causes of Failures

There are many reasons that led to the failure of the Meech Lake Accord’s ratification ratified – the overall lack ofcitizen’s participation was the first to fuel opposition. The premiers from the 11 provinces drafted the amendments and agreed upon in two separate meetings without involving other representatives. Indeed, this went on mostly behind closed doors. As explained by Brock (23), the citizens were not involved in the drafting of the Accord; many thought, therefore, that it did not reflect the views and specific needs of Quebec’s citizens, the majority of which felt the need for independence from English speaking Canadian communities and thereby the other provinces at large. Though particularly the case for Quebec, all the provinces needed representatives of citizens overseeing the Accord to be properly comfortable with the new interpretation.

The accord lost favourwith the public because it was seen as symbol of backroom political deal making; only 11 men – premiers– were involved. However, before three years elapsed, Canada had an option of constituting a council of representative from all the provinces to amend the Accord so that the public might be fully involved in the process (Courchene 41). However, this option failed and the premier did not implement it.

The procedure for ratification contributed significantly to the failure of the Meech Lake Accordwithin a three-year window. This time also created a window of opportunity for politicalmeddling in the ratification process. As a result, political meddling in two provinces led to their failure to ratify the Accord before the 1990 deadline – Elijah Harper of Manitoba province refused to ratify the accord while Clyde Wells of Newfoundland reneged on his initial approval three years earlier. As explained by Manfredi (32), their political manipulationdiffused situations in Manitoba and Newfoundland, which eventually spelt the destruction of the Meech Lake Accord.

(b) CharlottetownAccord

The failure to ratify the Meech Lake Accord not only led to increased tension in the country at many levels but also the need for a new accord to address issues raised in the former, resulting in the Charlottetown Accord in 1992 later submitted to public referendum in October the same year.

The new Accord attempted to resolve many issues, including the long-standing dispute concerning the division of powers between provincial and federal jurisdiction in Canada. This Accord declared that the provincial jurisdiction would have control of mining, forestry, cultural policy, and natural resources. Most significantly, it substantially altered the political status of Aboriginal groups by enshrining their right to self-government in the Canadian Constitution – it recognized Aboriginal governments as a third order of government in the federal government itself, though subject to judicial reviews. Even though the community drafted the Accord to overcome challenges faced by the Meech Lake Accord, the Charlottetown Accord also failed during the ratification process (Breton 26).

Causes of Failures

Even though the Charlottetown Accord dealt heavily with longstanding issues pertaining to Quebec to address challenges previously faced by the Meech Lake Accord, itfailed because Quebeckers had developed a sense of national rejection consolidated by the failed Meech Lake Accord. Despite the recognition of Aboriginal governments as a third order of government in the federal government, there was high spirit of separation amongst the peopleto an extent that there was no consensus for ratifying the Charlottetown Accord. Due to this development, separatism reached new highs in Canada (Simeon 11). Many Canadians lost faith in the Charlottetown Accord, believing that the differences between Quebec and the rest of Canada were too great to solve through dabbling in the constitution.At the same time, the political environment allowed for the option of including economic issues, which could have significantly wooed Canadians to ratify the Charlottetown Accord (Monahan 33).

Another factor that led to the failure of Charlottetown Accord was the political stand taken by Elijah Harper, a factor that was largely responsible for the failure of the Meech Lake Accord as well his political stance led to the Aboriginal issues taking much greater consideration in the Charlottetown Accord at the expense of economy and empowerment as issues, which would have been more unifying and applicable at the time. This drew attention away from things Canadians would have agreed on.

In addition, the drafting of the Charlottetown Accord involved citizens by using diverse commissions and committees established at the national level. Even though the public was allowed to express their opinions, the majority of their views were not reflected in the Charlottetown Accord itself. For instance, it watered down Quebec’s ambitions for decentralization. The disagreement between Quebec and the English speaking Canadian community on the constitutional powers of the Quebeckers as well as proposed senate reforms were also major limiting factors in passing the Charlottetown Accord (Hurley 21).

Policy Recommendations

From the above analysis, it is clearly evidence that both the Charlottetown and Meech Lake Accords failed because of weaknesses in the policy and drafting. There are a few policy recommendations concerning what Canadians can do to obtain Quebec’s approval for accepting the Constitution Act of 1982. First, the country must address the spirit of separation among the Quebec community, which both the Accords failed to address substantially. One way of minimizing the spirit of separation is to increase and focus on the level of economic empowerment of the people at all levels enabled through the union of the provinces. The spirit of separation is high amongst the Quebec community because they feel that the national government has sidelined and not economically empowered them.

A call to national service would also help greatly get Quebec into the Constitution Act of 1982. The leadership from each province starting with the premier should encourage citizens to undertake various levels of national service. At the national level, the government of Canada should develop various programs allowing the people to participate national service. By working together, the people will start developing unity and the Quebeckers will feel that they are fully part of Canada – national service would greatly reduce the spirit of separation among the Quebeckers.

Another alternative for obtaining Quebec’s approval and involvement is to create grounds for fair political participation. Every member of the community should have equal opportunity to participate in the national decision-making process and have a share of the national cake. Lack of fair participation one of the reasons why Quebec has maintained their separation agenda at large: they want autonomy for self-governance in order to manage their own issues and affairs. The government of Canada can do this by creating equal electoral quotas for each province through another constitutional amendment.

In addition, the country should uphold and promote the cultural heritage of the Quebec community, which many Quebeckers feel is undervalued by English speaking Canadians: they lack an overall sense of belonging. The government can do this using targeting media programs to promote the cultural heritage of the Quebeckers.

Building nationalism through federalism would also help get Quebec into the constitution act of 1982. To build nationalism, the country should develop programs that requires participation of every province. In addition, the national education, especially at the primary and secondary level, should focus on teaching and enhancing nationalism.

An increase in political goodwill in general will also help gain Quebec’s consent for implementing the Constitution Act of 1982 – creating stable and sustainable political goodwill from both sides will help create unity and win the Quebec electorates hearts and minds. As explained by White (23), political goodwill can be improved by enhancing the political as well as constitutional system of the country. The last way this paper recommends ensuring adherence is to ensure that Canada adhere to the principleof national equality of all its provinces, thereby not alienating any one in particular and therefore none.


Since 1982, Canada has been making serious attempts to bring Quebec into the Constitution Act of 1982, however, with limited attempts. Up to date, Canada has never managed to bring Quebec into the Constitution Act of 1982. Following the failures, Canada attempted to woe Quebec by drafting two independent accords successively namely the Meech Lake Accord and the Charlottetown accord respectively, both of which failed to achieve their objectives.  Moving forward, Canada can attempt to bring Quebec into the Constitution Act of 1982 by considering the policy recommendations discussed above.

Work Cited

Breton, Raymond. Why Meech Failed: Lessons for Canadian Constitution making. No. 35. CD Howe Institute, 1992.

Brock, Kathy. “Learning From Failure: Lessons from Charlottetown.” Constitutional Forum/Forum constitutional. Vol. 4. No. 1-4. 2011.

Courchene, Thomas J. Celebrating flexibility: An interpretive essay on the evolution of Canadian federalism. CD Howe Institute, 1995.

Hurley, James Ross. Amending Canada’s Constitution: History, Processes, Problems and Prospects. Ottawa: Canada Communication Group, 1996.

LaSelva, Samuel Victor. The moral foundations of Canadian federalism: Paradoxes, achievements, and tragedies of nationhood. Kingston, ON: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1996.

Library of Parliament. Research Branch. Constitutional Activity from Patriation to Charlottetown (1980-1992). Library of Parliament, Research Branch, 1995.

Manfredi, Christopher P. “On the Virtues of a Limited Constitution: Why Canadians were Right to Reject the Charlottetown Accord’.” Rethinking the Constitution: Perspectives on Canadian Constitutional Reform, Interpretation, and Theory (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1996).

Monahan, Patrick J. Meech Lake: The Inside Story. University of Toronto Press, 1991.

Simeon, Richard. “Meech Lake and Visions of Canada.” Swinton and Rogerson, eds., Competing Constitutional Visions (1988): 295-306.

White, Linda A. The Comparative Turn in Canadian Political Science. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2008. Print.