AFTER THE DEMISE OF THE MEECH LAKE ACCORD, THE QUEEN VISITS A COUNTRY AT A CROSSROADS
AFTER THE DEMISE OF THE MEECH LAKE ACCORD, THE QUEEN VISITS A COUNTRY AT A CROSSROADS
The visit by Queen Elizabeth II last week, her 15th to Canada since she assumed the throne in 1952, provided stark reminders that the monarch reigns over a deeply divided nation. In Alberta, where she spent four days, 6,000 people turned out to greet her in Calgary’s Olympic Plaza. There, the crowds enthusiastically waved Canadian flags as the Queen, dressed in a white coat and mauve hat, moved among them smiling and accepting bouquets of fresh flowers. Three days earlier in Montreal, however, Canadian flags had been evident only under the feet of demonstrators, as Quebecers turned the streets into a sea of blue-and-white fleur-de-lys flags in celebration of St. Jean Baptiste Day, Quebec’s “national” holiday. Coming on the heels of a constitutional crisis that culminated with the death of the Meech Lake accord, the scenes in Calgary and Montreal were visible expressions of the country’s conflicting identities.
Indeed, some Quebec nationalists said that it was inappropriate for the Queen to go ahead with the only Quebec segment of her five-day visit, a 30-minute stroll in a park in Hull, across the Ottawa River from the capital, during Canada Day festivities on Sunday. The mayor of Hull, Michel Légère, said that he would not
greet the monarch because of the timing of her visit. Several other Quebec municipalities cancelled Canada Day celebrations entirely because of the death of Meech Lake. Other indications of the continuing tensions surfaced in the House of Commons, where angry Quebec MPs resigned from both the governing Conservative party and the opposition Liberals, saying that, because of the accord’s defeat, they could no longer work within the two federal parties. And outside the chamber, Newfoundland Liberal MP Brian Tobin compared the Tories to vindictive Nazis, accusing the government of delaying support for the potentially massive Hibernia offshore oil development in his province in order to punish Newfoundland for its role in defeating the accord.
For their part, the Tories attempted to turn the political page on Meech Lake and their rock-bottom standing in opinion polls with a flurry of diversionary announcements, including the introduction of stricter gun controls
(page 14). The government also appointed a successor to outgoing Supreme Court Chief Justice Brian Dickson. Prime Minister Brian Mulroney named a Quebecer, Supreme Court veteran Antonio Lamer, to the position (page 16). And after failing to get unanimous Commons approval to table the report of the Dubin judicial inquiry into the Ben Johnson steroid scandal, government officials hurriedly handed it out to reporters (page 18). Mulroney, meanwhile, defended the Queen’s visit—and her 30minute-long stopover in Quebec. Declared Mulroney: “Anytime is a good time for the Queen to visit Canada.”
Plainly, that was the sentiment in Alberta, where crowds lined the streets of Calgary and Red Deer to catch a glimpse of the monarch. In Calgary, after Mulroney and Gov. Gen. Ramon Hnatyshyn formally welcomed her to Canada, the Queen enchanted many of the waiting spectators by walking past the crowd, exchang-
ing words with some of her admirers and accepting flowers from others. Later, she emerged from a reception at Calgary’s Palliser Hotel and encountered 92-year-old Muriel Millar, who had spent four hours in the building’s lobby waiting for a glimpse of the sovereign. Said Millar, after her brief conversation with the Queen: “Waiting was worth it. I love my ruler. It was the highlight of my life.”
Earlier, the crowds had booed Mulroney as he emerged from a luncheon for dignitaries awaiting the Queen’s arrival. For the Prime Minister, it was a sobering reminder that his party remains at a low standing of 17 per cent in the most recent public opinion poll, published last week by Gallup Canada. And at week’s end, speaking at a dinner in Calgary, the Queen expressed her “anxiety and deep concern” for what she described as
Canada’s “threat of internal divisions.”
But newly elected Liberal Leader Jean Chrétien, whose party topped Gallup's poll at 50 per cent, faced trials of his own. When the Commons reconvened last week, Quebec MP Jean Lapierre, who had worked on the losing campaign of Paul Martin, promptly resigned from the Liberal caucus. Citing Chrétien’s opposition to Meech Lake, Lapierre, who represents the riding of Shefford, southeast of Montreal, said, “I would not want to have an association of one minute with that individual who is now the shame of most Quebecers.”
Lapierre joined another former Liberal, MP Gilles Rocheleau, who had already made clear his intent to leave his party’s caucus over Chrétien's Quebec policy. Both men will sit alongside—but not yet with—she other Quebec MPs who have left the Tory caucus in recent weeks over Meech Lake, and who now sit as Independents. The Liberal defections
heightened the prospects that the informal group of Quebec members, who have coalesced around former Tory environment minister Lucien Bouchard, may run a candidate in an Aug. 13 by election in the Montreal riding of LaurierSainte Marie. Already, however, that byelection has attracted several other pro-independence candidates, including Conservative Christian Fortin, who declared on June 28 that he supports sovereignty for Quebec.
Still, it was clear last week that many politicians wanted a quiet period of reflection after the emotional Meech debate. Both the Commons and the Senate adjourned for a threemonth-long summer recess. But there was clear evidence of the depth of partisan animosity in the number of major pieces of government legislation that the Liberal-dominated Senate refused to pass. They included bills
dealing with abortion, the proposed new Goods and Services Tax and changes to the unemployment insurance system.
Meanwhile, Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa and Ontario’s David Peterson attempted to restore an atmosphere of normalcy to national politics. At Bourassa's request, they met in Montreal to demonstrate that the solidarity that they displayed throughout the Meech Lake negotiations would continue into the new era. And they tried to reassure the business community that the constitutional crisis would not result in economic upheaval. Said Peterson: “It is important that we keep our economic relationships growing, that we keep them stable, particularly in a period of political uncertainty.” In one early indication that the financial community had accepted that sanguine perspective, the Canadian dollar rose through the week, closing on Friday at 85.96 cents (U.S.), more than a penny higher than its value of 84.95 cents at the close of trading on Monday.
But there were clear signals that Canadian politics had been irrevocably altered by the death of the constitutional accord. After the massive—but peaceful—demonstrations that marked Quebec’s St. Jean Baptiste celebrations, the mayors of Quebec City and Sherbrooke were among those cancelling planned Canada Day festivities in their cities. Declared Quebec City Mayor Jean-Paul l’Allier: “We have no business celebrating a
country that slams its door on our fingers.” Bourassa, meanwhile, wasted little time in setting into motion his own Quebec-first agenda. Under pressure from what some of his officials described as nationalistic “young Turks” in his party, Bourassa on Thursday proposed the establishment of a non-partisan commission to explore the province’s constitu-
tional options. According to Bourassa, only two choices would be ruled out in advance: the status quo, and union with the United States. The following day, separatist Parti Québécois Leader Jacques Parizeau emerged from a 90minute meeting with Bourassa and enthusiastically endorsed the proposal. The commission,
whose members are expected to come from business and labor as well as the National Assembly, is expected to present its report by the end of the year.
Another reflection of Quebec’s new priorities may emerge this week in the form of a bilateral agreement with Ottawa on immigration policy. Under the agreement, the federal
government would transfer up to $80 million to Quebec for programs aimed at encouraging new immigrants to settle in that province. Officials on both sides said that similar arrangements in such areas as communications policy and federal spending power may follow.
But Ottawa’s apparent willingness to deal
directly with Quebec on such issues prompted other premiers to call for new arrangements of their own with the federal government. British Columbia, for one, “will seek a different type of Confederation,” said Premier William Vander Zalm. He added, “We are going to make sure that, if a deal is negotiated between Ottawa and Quebec, then we are at the same door to get the same deal.” Vander Zalm added that he would seek cabinet approval to create his own panel of constitutional advisers to help prepare the province’s demands. Said Simon Fraser University law professor Edward McWhinney, a likely member of the group: “The key actors are already moving, and provinces have to be on the ball or get left out. If you take the summer off, there might not be much left to negotiate when you get back.”
Certainly, Mulroney’s Conservatives gave every sign that they plan a major offensive to reverse their tumbling political fortunes. Said one Tory MP, who insisted upon anonymity: “You will see a lot of action at a furious rate.” Some senior bureaucrats, meanwhile, said that they had been ordered to scrap their summer vacation plans and stay in Ottawa to help ministers prepare a new legislative agenda. Last week’s announcements of the new guncontrol bill and a federal strategy to fight AIDS suggested that the party was preparing to focus on social issues—not constitutional ones—when Parliament resumes on Sept. 24.
As well, Mulroney will likely act soon to fill the 12 Senate vacancies with Conservatives. And with the all-consuming Meech Lake negotiations ended, personnel changes are likely among the Prime Minister’s senior advisers. Said one official in the Prime Minister’s Office: “There will be a changing of the guard.” Among those expected to leave or change jobs are Mulroney’s three most senior advisers in developing his Meech Lake strategy: Stanley Hartt, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, Norman Spector, cabinet secretary for federal-provincial relations, and Minister for Federal-Provincial Relations Senator Lowell Murray.
But, in the Commons, politicians focused on more immediate issues last week. The opposition accused the government of exacting revenge on Newfoundland for its opposition to Meech Lake by withdrawing a bill to finance the $5.2-billion Hibernia oil project. Energy Minister Jake Epp attributed the delay to continuing negotiations with Mobil Oil Canada, the project’s largest private partner. But some Tories conceded that the government withheld the legislation to avoid giving Quebec MPs the chance to vote against it. Declared MP Lise Bourgault, a Quebec Conservative: “The Newfoundland premier did not want to pass the Meech Lake accord. He will have to face the consequences.” For all the pomp and pageantry that accompany royal visits, there was no concealing the fact that the Queen last week was touring a battered nation increasingly uncertain of its way ahead.
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