Canada Outlines New Constitution
Prime minister's appeal to Quebec to remain part of country is heart of controversial plan
CANADA is going to try again to keep Quebec in the country.The outline for a new constitution, called Shaping Canada's Future Together, was placed before the House of Commons by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney on Tuesday. The package covers everything from a reformed Senate to a form of self-government for native Canadians. But an appeal to Quebec to remain part of Canada is at the heart of the deal. "Constitutional reform must embrace Quebec's distinct society," said Mr. Mulroney. "To recognize the distinct character of Quebec is to acknowledge sociological and political reality." The federal government's constitutional package replaces the Meech Lake accord that was defeated in June of last year. The Canadian Constitution was brought back from Britain in 1982, but Quebec's then pro-separatist government was the only province that refused to sign it. The Meech Lake accord was defeated by the provinces of Newfoundland and Manitoba in June last year, sending Canada into a crisis and Quebec to the brink of splitting off from the country. A year ago, opinion polls showed 65 percent of Quebeckers in favor of leaving Canada; today that number is just under 60 percent. Politicians from Quebec have already voiced their opposition to the new offering. "This package is very dangerous to Quebec," said Lucien Bouchard, leader of the separatist Bloc Qucois party and a former member of Mr. Mulroney's cabinet. The prime minister, outside the legislative chamber, was adamant in his dismissal of Mr. Bouchard's criticism. "We are not going to be able to deal with the phonies who say they're interested in Canada but whose real objective is the destruction of the nation," Mulroney said.
New proposal Highlights of the new federal constitutional proposal include: * Designating Quebec as a "Distinct Society" because of its French language, its culture, and its use of a separate civil law derived from French law (not English) for more than two centuries. * Giving native Canadians self-government within 10 years. Elected councils would replace direct rule from the Department of Indian Affairs in Ottawa. * Electing the Senate. Canadian senators are currently appointed. * Strengthening Canada's economic union by removing restrictions on trade and movement of people between the 10 provinces and two territories. * Transfering many federal powers to provincial governments, especially in the area of 'culture,' meant to please Quebec. If the Quebec premier, Robert Bourassa does not like the proposals - and he has yet to comment on them - he will call for a referendum on Quebec independence to be held within a year. But Mr. Bourassa's constitutional Minister, Gil Remillard, hinted that there will be negotiations ahead and that the proposals will not be dismissed out of hand. Clyde Wells, the premier of Newfoundland, and the man blamed by the prime minister for blocking the Meech Lake accord, says he is against any province being given special powers. "What Canadians, I believe, will insist on in the end is fairness and balance," said Mr. Wells in St. John's, Newfoundland. Quebec is not the only province unhappy with the present state of the confederation. Western Canada feels alienated because the two largest provinces, Ontario and Quebec, have dominated Canadian political affairs. That alienation has been shown in the growth of the Reform Party of Canada, which favors an elected Senate and equal representation regardless of population. The Senate's size will be negotiated.
Hearings across Canada "On the surface there is some movement on Senate reform. But I think there's still a long way to go to accommodate alienation, not just in the West, but all over the country," said Preston Manning, leader of the Reform Party. Mr. Manning said he has no objection to calling Quebec a distinct society, as long as the province is not given special powers. A parliamentary committee will start hearings on the proposals on Wednesday. Within 10 days the 30 member committee will start traveling across Canada to hear a cross-section of opinion. The committee will report to the House of Commons with its recommendations on Feb. 28.