The Meech Lake Accord was conceived by provincial premiers on a cocktail napkin in the Langevin Block of the House of Commons in 1987, only to be spirited away on an eagle feather in Manitoba’s Legislative Assembly three short years later. Elijah Harper, an aboriginal member of the legislature, had opposed the accord’s ratification over the heads of First Nations, brandishing the feather as a symbol of disapproval.
Provincial assent was necessary for the accord to become law, and other provinces bolted as well because Premier Robert Bourassa had just used the notwithstanding clause to deny the right to commercial signage in English. This was especially galling for the premiers because the accord was a federally-sanctioned agreement to expand provincial power, with special attention paid to propitiating Quebec in the aftermath of repatriation. How must the premiers have felt at this betrayal? Probably as President Lyndon Johnson felt in 1965 when he heard Prime Minister Lester Pearson criticizing the Vietnam War. To modify the president’s words for the occasion: Mr. Bourassa, you pissed on our rug.
Fast forward to today. Manitoba is again offside with “Quebec’s legitimate aspirations”, and Premier Brian Pallister’s disapproval of Bill 21 has been met by hectoring from Premier François Legault over his neglect of Francophone rights in Manitoba. This from a Quebec that has traditionally left French Canadians in the ROC to their own devices, siding with provincial rights over linguistic minority rights time after time. A matter of jurisdiction, don’t you know?
But the rights of Canada’s religious minorities know no provincial boundaries, and they will not be subjected to power grabs or turf wars. From aldermen to mayors to premiers across the land, this is being expressed in unison. Quebec will not be coddled and the ROC will not be mollified. Bill 21’s day of reckoning is yet to come.
Me. Howard Greenfield