Like the death that preceded it, the inquest has been both stormy and widely publicized. On June 29, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney appeared on CBC TV’s The Journal to speak about the demise of the Meech Lake constitutional accord a week earlier. An angry Mulroney lashed out at Newfoundland’s Liberal premier, Clyde Wells, claiming that Wells’s decision not to hold a promised free vote in Newfoundland’s house of assembly on June 22 caused the accord’s failure. But then Wells appeared on the same program last week, at his own request, and called Mulroney’s version of events “utterly false.” Wells accused the Prime Minister’s constitutional point man, Senator Lowell Murray, of trying to make Newfoundland a scapegoat after it became clear, on June 22, that the accord could not pass on time in Manitoba because of the objection of native NDP MLA Elijah Harper. Wells said that Murray was pressuring Newfoundland, the only other holdout province, to vote on the accord that day,
even though Wells had informed Murray of his belief that it could not pass in the legislature. Said Wells: “Senator Murray insisted on a vote knowing what the outcome would be—so that he could point the finger at Newfoundland.”
Wells said that there was no point in putting the Newfoundland legislature through the wrenching experience of a vote on Meech Lake once it became clear on June 22 that the accord could not be ratified in Manitoba by the June 23 deadline. “Nothing further could be achieved by Newfoundland’s saying no,” he said. And Wells disputed Murray’s insistence that a last-minute federal government strategy to save Meech Lake, by asking the Supreme Court of Canada to extend the accord’s deadline, depended on Newfoundland voting on Meech Lake—and passing it—first. Murray abandoned that strategy, blaming Wells, when the premier postponed Newfoundland’s vote indefinitely. But Wells
said that his decision, in fact, gave Murray a chance to pursue his strategy. “They can still take the reference to the Supreme Court today if they want to,” he said. “If Newfoundland
had voted against the accord, it
would have put an effective end to it.” Meanwhile, the April 6 vote rescinding the province’s approval of the accord still stands.
As the broadsides continued last week, some Newfoundlanders expressed fears that Ottawa will have its revenge on Newfoundland by stalling the long-awaited, still-uncertain $5.2-billion Hibernia offshore oil project. But public support for Wells did not appear to have eroded. Said Memorial University political scientist Susan McCorquodale, a Meech supporter: “The delay in Hibernia frightens the wits out of the business community, but I think the general population continues to support Wells.” For now, the question “Who really killed Meech Lake?” may be left to future historians to answer.
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