From the moment on Aug. 28 when they first announced agreement on a constitutional proposal, Canada's first ministers and other political leaders repeatedly said that it would bring a new spirit of consensus to an often-embattled country.
Declared Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, in a speech in Sept-Iles, Que., promoting the accord: “It is Yes to Canada, Yes to Quebec, Yes to democracy, Yes to history.” But in the weeks that followed, as a surprisingly large number of Canadians declared their opposition to the agreement, the country appeared more divided than ever. In the final weekend before the Oct. 26 vote, only the World Series victory of baseball’s Toronto Blue Jays seemed to bring any balm to the tortured national soul (page 56). But as 75 per cent of eligible Canadian voters went to the polls in Monday’s referendum, they emerged united in a way their political leaders had never envisioned— or wanted. In decisive and stunning fashion, the accord was rejected by six provinces (Nova Scotia, Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia), one territory (the Yukon) and by an overall majority of Canadians. Said Mulroney in Ottawa—flanked by his wife, Mila, and several cabinet ministers—shortly after final results were announced in British Columbia: “The Charlottetown agreement is history.”
With those words, Mulroney acknowledged the end to a referendum campaign that stands as the most sweeping rebuff to elected politicians in the country’s 125 years. At the same time, the vote may also have indicated another, equally heartfelt rejection—towards other perceived elites including business leaders, organized interest groups and anyone perceived to be asking for special treatment. Those attitudes were most obvious in the rejection of many English-Canadians towards recognizing Quebec as a “distinct society”— and in largely unspoken but deeply felt concerns over the implications of native self-government. Many people appeared to share the belief of Krista Nowlands, a 29-year-old nurse and mother of two in Halifax, who told Maclean ’s that she voted No because “I do not feel certain people should be getting special privileges.” And, as a Maclean’s/Decima poll indicates, that attitude also extends towards others who opposed the accord for different reasons (page 16). Although the National Ac-
tion Committee on the Status of Women opposed the accord because it did not do enough to entrench women’s rights, none of the poll respondents agreed with that assertion.
The tangible cost of Canadians’ annoyance with the deal—and their accompanying vote—is not yet clear. Some analysts warned that it pitches Canada further into the downward, introspective spiral that has characterized constitutional debates over the last five years. Former Ontario premier David Peterson, whose 1990 defeat was largely attributed to his support of the failed Meech Lake accord, told Maclean’s that the rejection of the Charlottetown accord “is another step to shutting out the rest of the world. If we spend all our time thinking only about ourselves, how can we keep pace?”
In fact, Mulroney and other leaders moved swiftly to address the rest of the world’s concerns about Canada after the vote. They also made it clear that they wanted to set the Constitution aside. Said B.C. Premier Michael Harcourt: “We should put the Constitution on the back burner for a while and turn off the burner.” All through the campaign, Yes supporters warned that a No vote would bring internal chaos and cause international concern by investors. But once the results were announced, they adopted a new, more soothing theme: that the strength and scope of the No vote transcended regional or linguistic boundaries. Said former Alberta premier Peter Lougheed—a key Yes supporter—in an interview with Maclean ’s after the vote: “Obviously, we believed that a Yes vote would be better. But this vote makes clear that the Constitution is now on the back burner, and the economy is again taking precedence.” Added Lougheed: “No one part of the country can feel excluded by a rejection of this magnitude. That is a form of stability investors should recognize.”
In the early aftermath of the vote, international reaction was mild. As soon as it became apparent that the accord would be rejected by Quebec, the dollar fell in value almost onequarter of a cent against the American dollar, but then stabilized. For their part, some financial advisers said that international investors will now adopt a wait-and-see attitude. In Tokyo, one equities broker with a Canadianowned investment company said that the reaction on that stock exchange was muted because “the Japanese have expected a No vote for about three weeks.” In New York, John Lipsky, the chief economist of Salomon Brothers Inc.,
told Maclean ’s. “This is a relatively benign rejection scenario. The prospect that Quebec would vote No and everyone else Yes gave me a real shudder.” In Toronto, Stephen Bennett, the senior vice-president in charge of global money markets for CIBC-Wood Gundy, declared: “If we do not get any inflammatory statements and a sense of stability develops over the next few days, we should see a move to lower interest rates.”
At the same time, Mulroney and most of the 10 premiers took steps to show they now want to put full focus on economic matters. Mulroney is expected to hold a first ministers’ conference dealing solely with the economy in the next two weeks—at which the leaders will try to agree on a series of immediate initiatives. One of those is a massive, $28-billion federal-provincial public works project which has been delayed due to disagreements between Ottawa and Premier Bob Rae’s Ontario government over financing.
But even as they struggle to put the constitutional debate behind them, Mulroney and the premiers must decide how—or whether—to reintroduce some elements of the failed constitutional package. Many of the key items outlined in the accord, including increased native self-government, could be accomplished without making formal changes to the Constitution. But before doing so, Mulroney and the premiers must decide whether such steps would be politically palatable. As well, Mulroney, by agreeing to the Charlottetown accord, implicitly acknowledged that Ottawa has for years been intruding into areas which are supposed to be controlled solely by the provinces. Among them: mining, forestry, tourism, housing, recreation and regional development. Now, the federal government must decide whether it will continue its involvement in those areas.
In the early confusion and dismay in Ottawa, the reaction of Yes supporters ranged from furious to philosophical. The most bitter were native leaders who had hailed the recognition of their right to self-government as the beginning of a new era. Ovide Mercredi, leader of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), said that: “Canadians have said No to us. We have obviously been rejected.” In a speech to other members at the AFN’s Ottawa headquarters, Mercredi suggested that natives may now pursue land claims through international courts and start making their own laws, even if they run contrary to those of Canadian courts. That suggestion was echoed by other native leaders.
Other than Mulroney—close associates said that he remained an optimist to the end—many Yes organizers had begun bracing themselves for defeat in the face of a series of discouraging polls over the previous week. In Quebec, federal Labor Minister Marcel Danis said that the 68to 32per-cent victory of the No side in his South Shore Montrealarea riding was “almost an anti-climax.” Said Danis: “Throughout the last two weeks, the harder we worked for the Yes side, the more we seemed to fall behind.”
At the same time, Yes supporters were also searching for reasons for their defeat: at the Yes Committee’s Ottawa headquarters, organizers began dissecting the campaign shortly after 9 p.m., when it became clear that the Yes side
was losing in at least two provinces—Quebec and Nova Scotia. While about 50 volunteers watched the results on three television sets, Les Campbell, a senior organizer and longtime New Democratic Party supporter, attributed the defeat to the insecurity of people who are confused and frightened by a fast-changing world. Said Campbell: “When someone gave them [a referendum ballot] and said vote Yes for the great unknown or No for the status quo, they said, ‘I will vote No, thank you very much.’ ”
But voters also acknowledged that personal-
ities played a key part in their decisions—and in that regard, the biggest loser is clearly Mulroney, who became a lightning rod for criticism of the Yes forces. In the short term, his iron grip over his caucus makes it unlikely that there will be any direct challenges to his leadership, despite behind-the-scenes grumbling. In one instance, at a recent private gathering of Tories in Ottawa, a longtime party member suggested to Mulroney’s chief of staff, Hugh Segal, that the Prime Minister should be told to resign if the accord was defeated. Responded a testy Segal: “I will make the appointment for you this afternoon. You tell him.” The conversation ended there.
But while his caucus remains outwardly supportive, Mulroney faces the prospect of mass defections if he runs again. Even before the referendum, many of his senior ministers— including Deputy Prime Minister Don Mazankowski, Constitutional Affairs Minister Joe Clark, Fisheries Minister John Crosbie and International Trade Minister Michael Wilson— said that they were uncertain whether they would run again. In the wake of another failed attempt to bring Quebec into the Constitution,
Mulroney’s power base within that province is severely weakened. Many Quebec Tory MPs in rural ridings were elected in 1984 and 1988 despite the lack of strong riding organizations, because the Parti Québécois (PQ) gave informal support to the Tories. But the PQ will support Lucien Bouchard’s Bloc Québécois in the next election, and the Bloc will lay sole claim to the province’s sovereigntist vote while the Tories battle the Liberals and New Democratic Party for the federalist vote.
Some Tories discount Mulroney’s public in-
sistence that he will run again. Instead, they privately suggest, he will listen to the urgings of some close friends, who will tell him that he has succeeded in most of his political goals—and that he can be content with those achievements. If Mulroney decides to resign, he will likely do so by the end of January. That would give the party the three months it would need to organize a leadership convention and elect a successor, who would then be obliged to call an election by November, 1993.
At the same time, the other leader with immediate political difficulties is Bourassa. With an election due next fall, he must regain the support of the estimated 20 per cent of Quebec voters who describe themselves as federalists—but who voted against the accord. Most of those were moderate nationalists who believed that the Charlottetown agreement did not offer enough new powers to Quebec and who are, by definition, dissatisfied with the status quo. In a graceful concession speech on referendum night, Bourassa acknowledged those frustrations—but made a strong plea for federalism. Declared Bourassa, in a clear challenge to Parti Québécois Leader Jacques Pari-
zeau: “A battle is over, but the war continues.” As well, Bourassa faces a political fire storm next year, when he will have to decide whether to renew the province’s legislation banning the use of languages other than French from commercial signs. Bill 178, the 1988 piece of legislation enforcing the ban, expires next year. If Bourassa does not renew the bill, he risks a bitter fight with Quebec nationalists on the eve of a provincial election. But if he does maintain the ban, he is certain to revive animosity against Quebec in the rest of the coun-
try, which would be likely to spill over into future constitutional talks. Because of that, senior provincial Liberals say that Bourassa is likely to call an election next spring or early summer in order to avoid making that decision part of the campaign.
But for now, many politicians acknowledge that they face a far more immediate challenge, as they struggle to put the Oct. 26 vote behind them. Said Environment Minister Jean Charest: “We need to convince people that politicians stand for something more than just our own personal interests.” Added Charest: “There is no point in telling them they are wrong: the solution is to show them.” But as a new political era dawned on Oct. 27, chastened politicians faced a daunting new reality: before they discuss new ways in which to lead the country, they first must ensure that Canadians will be willing to follow them.
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