The Charlottetown Accord was rejected by Canadians 30 years ago. It was not one of our country’s finer moments. Historians might puzzle over its failure in years to come but to those of us who fought it, we knew we were fighting for our country. The accord was a top-down, inelegant document having its origin in the former Meech Lake Accord. Crafted by federal and provincial politicians, it was considered just an appeasement to Quebec—whose voters turned it down anyway.
The Charlottetown Accord passed by 50.1 per cent in favour in Ontario. It was the newer Canadian’s votes in Toronto that passed the accord. They were impressed that all three parties were supporting it.
That agreement between the parties caused me political problems. I could tell my local MP (a conservative) to get lost but liberal senators and MPs who contacted me were more of a problem. I particularly remember the lengthy conversation with Senator Richard Stanbury, a good friend for the past 30 years. It was especially hard for me to say ‘no’ to Dick when he asked me to support the accord. His concern was with Quebec voting for separation from Canada if we did not pass the accord.
I had a great sense of relief when former prime minister Pierre Trudeau came out of his retirement. His speech at La Maison Egg Roll in Verdun, Quebec was classic. He was still in great form. He held the accord up to ridicule. He saw it as a document that would further divide Canadians rather than bring them together. He was concerned by the attempts in the accord to make changes that would be irreversible without unanimous consent. He was particularly scathing in denouncing the transfer of many federal government responsibilities to the provinces.
Pierre Trudeau might have thought of himself as the little Dutch boy sticking his fingers into the dike. Yet, he turned the tide. And yes, the péquiste leaders in Quebec hated the accord because it was a few steps short of giving them the separation they wanted.
What we can all agree on is that never again will Canadians allow their politicians to control changes to their constitution. It must be done democratically. It involves all of us. We are already warming to the idea of telling Charles III to take a hike as Canada’s sovereign.
Copyright 2022 © Peter Lowry
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