Skip to content

Meech Lake Accord Essay

This collection of papers originated in the first stand-alone conference sponsored by the Canadian Committee on Women’s History, an affiliate of the Canadian Historical Association. According to editors Catherine Carstairs and Nancy Janovicek, the thirteen essays address four themes of current (and recurrent) interest: women’s work, biography, activism, and transnationalism. Some of the essays return to earlier preoccupations of the fledgling field of women’s history, such as women’s paid and unpaid labour and women’s activism, while biographical approaches and transnational analyses add rich dimensions to the scholarship on women and gender. The theme of women’s work appears in essays on men’s and women’s diaries in nineteenth-century New Brunswick (Gail Campbell), saleswomen and advertising in Canadian department stores (Donica Belisle), social work professors at Laval University (Hélène Charron), history teachers in Ontario (Rose Fine-Meyer), in Depression-era diaries of single women (Heidi MacDonald), and in the domestic service sector in Quebec City (Catherine Charron). Biographical approaches inform many of the previously cited essays, while a number of others focus on specific individuals, particularly mixed-race couple Amelia Connolly and James Douglas (Adele Perry), peace activist Julia Grace Wales (Lorna McLean), and pioneer Chinese educator Hazel Chong (Kristina Llewellyn). Activist women are the focus of Karen Balcom’s piece on international child welfare reformers; Catherine Gidney writes about professional women at Victoria College, University of Toronto; Ruby Heap looks at pioneering women engineers in the 1970s and 1980s; and Anthony Hampton examines New Brunswick feminist responses to the Meech Lake Accord.

This new collection underlines the prominence of qualitative evidence in this area of Canadian history. In addition to the use of diaries, personal papers, and visual culture, several essays interrogate oral history sources. As Perry notes, oral sources have been viewed as “less stable” than official, written sources but she also points out how important such evidence is for capturing women’s and gender history. In the case of Connolly, the Metis wife of Governor James Douglas (himself [End Page 666] from a mixed-race family), the historian has little written evidence from her but much evidence from the official and family archives, illustrating “the uneven relationship between oral indigenous cultures and literate European or imperial ones as well as the variable access men and women had to writing and archival preservation” (34–5). Perry’s essay provides the transnational context of the Atlantic world, including Canada, the United States, and the Caribbean, for her portrait of Connolly and Douglas. Like Llewellyn’s study of Hazel Chong, which also uses oral history, Perry’s work takes us into multiracial identities and how they are understood. This is a rich and thoughtful essay on imperial intimacies, which won the 2014 Hilda Neatby Prize in Women’s History.

Regional representation is also key in this collection. Whereas early women’s history tended to focus on Ontario and to a lesser extent on Quebec, three essays use New Brunswick research subjects. Gail Campbell’s analysis of nineteenth-century, middle-aged men’s and women’s diaries concludes that both are needed to understand the shared worlds of family and community but that women’s diaries provide a broader picture of family and community life. Heidi MacDonald’s piece selects young diarists from Ontario, Alberta, and New Brunswick to explore the extent to which young women chose to remain single in the Depression years. Anthony Hampton examines the New Brunswick Ad Hoc Committee on the Constitution, a feminist-led organization that challenged the Meech Lake Accord and the lack of citizen consultation on the agreement. Three essays are based in Quebec, two of them translated into English and focused on Laval University academics and Quebec City domestics, rather than on those in Montreal, which has more often been the subject of women’s history research. The third essay focuses on the Eastern Township’s neglected peace activist, Julia Grace Wales, whose papers I helped get into Library and...

Prime Minister Brian Mulroney

The patriation of the Constitution in 1982 was done without Quebec's consent. With the Conservatives being voted into power at the federal level, and the Liberals gaining power in Quebec, constitutional negotiations were revived in an attempt to persuade Quebec to sign the Constitution.

The patriation of the Constitution in 1982 was done without Quebec's agreement. Quebec, being the only province not to sign the new Constitution, was nevertheless still bound by it. The federal elections brought Brian Mulroney's Conservative Party to power, while in Quebec, Robert Bourassa's Liberal Party had defeated Ren� L�vesque and the Parti Qu�b�cois. In an attempt to persuade Quebec to sign the Constitution, a new round of negotiations were held in 1985.

Quebec was willing to sign the Constitution as long as the changes it was proposing were accepted. Its proposals were separated into two parts. The first part involved including a statement in the Constitution that Quebec was a distinct society in Canada. The second part dealt with various issues to increase provincial powers with regards to the federal government. All the provincial Premiers agreed and signed the proposals, resulting in the Meech Lake Accord. However, the amending formula stated that in order to modify the Constitution, all provincial legislatures had to approve the Accord within a period of three years. In addition to recognizing Quebec's status as a distinct society, the Accord acknowledged that Quebec's minority Anglophone population and the minority francophone populations found across the country constituted a fundamental characteristic of Canada. The Accord also stated that the provinces would now play a role in the Supreme Court and Senate nominations. What's more, it also called for a mandatory First Minister's Conference to discuss certain points. Another point that was included in the Accord, and which was particularly important to Quebec, was that a province could receive financial compensation if it decided not to participate in a national program. Certain groups, including Canada's Native population, argued that they had not been included in the negotiations and demanded that the Accord be rejected. Despite this, most of the provincial legislatures accepted the Accord, with only Newfoundland and Manitoba's approval remaining. In Manitoba's case, unless it obtained the unanimous approval of all its Members of Parliament, public hearings would be required. On June 23, 1990, the deadline for signing the Accord, Elijah Harper, a Native Member of Parliament, refused to give his approval. The Federal Government then offered to push back the deadline, but this would force Quebec to ratify the document once more. This situation irritated Clyde Wells, the Premier of Newfoundland, and he refused to have his parliament vote on the Accord. This signified the death of the Meech Lake Accord.

Constitution (or Constitution Act)
System of laws by which a State is governed. It is a country's fundamental law - the law of laws. Since 1982, the Canadian Constitution has also included a Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Member state of the Canadian federation whose powers are defined by the Constitution. The majority of provinces, particularly Quebec and Alberta, call for a more equal partnership with the federal government and less centralized federalism.

Distinct Society
Clause that Quebec wants to include in the Constitution to recognize its status as the only francophone province in the Canadian federation. This clause would acknowledge the government's obligation to protect Quebec's unique status.

Federal government
Central government whose powers are defined by the Constitution. Its role is to govern the Canadian federation and to look after national interests. It often comes into conflict with provincial governments.

Amending formula
Stipulation that allows the Constitution to be amended. When the British North America Act was proclaimed in 1867, the British did not include a mechanism that would allow it to be modified. The inclusion of an amending formula was the object of intense negotiations.

Supreme Court of Canada
Tribunal created by the Parliament of Canada Act in 1875. Since 1949 it has been the highest court in Canada. One of its functions is interpreting the Constitution and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The upper house of the Canadian Parliament whose members are named by the federal government. Certain provinces demand to have legal authority over the nominations of senators, while others want them to be elected by the general public, like Members of Parliament.

First Ministers' Conference
Meeting between the Prime Minister of Canada and provincial Premiers. According to some people, it provides a forum for improving relations between the federal government and the provinces. It is not written in the Constitution that such meetings are mandatory.

Back to top