CANADA

TROUBLE FOR MEECH LAKE

CINDY BARRETT May 9 1988
CANADA

TROUBLE FOR MEECH LAKE

CINDY BARRETT May 9 1988

TROUBLE FOR MEECH LAKE

CANADA

It seemed like a political agreement destined for a prominent place in the history books. One year ago Brian Mulroney and Canada’s 10 premiers fashioned an accord aimed at returning Quebec to the constitutional fold, following the province’s refusal to sign the 1982 act that repatriated Canada’s Constitution. But so far, the agreement—which must be ratified by the provinces and Parliament before June, 1990— has only been approved by three provinces. And a Gallup poll published last week found that only 28 per cent of Canadians believe the agreement would be a good development for Canada, compared to 56 per cent a year ago. With the election of a minority Conservative government in Manitoba last week, Liberal Leader Sharon Carstairs’ adamant opposition to the pact

could prove fatal to Meech Lake.

In its principal clauses, the accord recognizes Quebec as a “distinct society” within Canada and it provides for the preservation of francophone and anglophone minorities across the country. Carstairs opposes the accord because, she says, it does not contain sufficient guarantees for the rights of women and other minority groups. Last week she warned that if premier-elect Gary Filmon brought the accord before the legislature, it would be defeated. “We will all vote against it,” said Carstairs. Support for the accord among the New Democrats elected last week was also believed to have softened since Manitoba’s NDP Premier Howard Pawley signed the document. Anticipating the difficulty of mustering enough votes in the legislature to pass the accord, Filmon told reporters that “I do not see Meech

Lake as something which will be dealt with early on in my term.”

Filmon’s predicament merely added to the problems besetting the accord. New Brunswick’s Liberal Premier Frank McKenna wants it amended to strengthen, among other things, women’s and minority rights. While conceding that the accord may now be in jeopardy, federal officials claimed that criticisms of Meech Lake should be put aside in the name of national unity. “We’re going to have to remind people that what is at stake here is whether or not we reunite the country,” said Senator Lowell Murray, Mulroney’s minister for federal-provincial relations. “Meech Lake is not a matter of public opinion. It is a federal-provincial problem that will rely on the statesmanship of the premiers and Mr. Mulroney, who saw it through once and must see it through again.”

-CINDY BARRETT with BRUCE WALLACE in Ottawa

BRUCE WALLACE