24 March 2014

Setting the record straight on Meech Lake… again #nlpoli #cdnpoli

There may be nothing new in documents from the federal cabinet in June 1990 about the failure of the Meech Lake Accord. After all, Brian Mulroney and the federal Conservatives attacked Clyde Wells personally for the failure of the Meech Lake Accord.  Mulroney claimed there was a massive conspiracy to frustrate him.

The documents just confirm what we already knew.

But,  in the Canadian Press story about the notes from a cabinet meeting,  there is something new.  It’s a quote from a key player in the drama:

Looking back, Norman Spector, secretary to the cabinet for federal-provincial affairs at the time, notes that pointing a finger is a way of deflecting blame from oneself.
In other words,  Brian Mulroney had to bear some of the blame,  according to Spector.

The information to support Spector’s comments is already in the public domain so it is a bit surprising that CP missed it.  You see,  when the Premiers and the Prime Minister emerged from marathon talks at the beginning of June, Wells had wanted to send the Accord to a referendum.  Mulroney and his advisors insisted there was no time to hold a vote in Newfoundland and Labrador:  June 23rd was an immovable deadline.

As it became more and more likely that the deal would die as a result of delays in Manitoba, the federal government changed positions.  If Newfoundland and Labrador voted on the Accord and passed it,  went the offer from federal officials, then the June 23rd deadline would miraculously shift to allow Manitoba to vote.

It was precisely that duplicity on the part of Mulroney and his associates that led not Wells alone but the entire Liberal caucus to support a suspension of the session without taking a vote at all. 

Here is the way Wells described the events that led up to the adjournment of the session.  The words are taken from his speech delivered in the House of Assembly late on June 22, 1990:
Having the view which I did, which I know was shared at least by some Members opposite, that the most probable result from this House would be a rejection, I thought about the impact of that on the people of this Province, the impact of it on the nation, the impact of it on the people of Quebec, of doing that in that circumstance. So I called  Senator Murray this morning, and I called Mr. Crosbie and expressed my opinions to them, and both of them undertook to get back to me. That was ten thirty this morning. I talked to the caucus, I talked to other prominent figures in the nation to get opinions, and I brought the issue to the caucus, and the caucus considered it at the lunch break. 
I brought the issue to the caucus and they thought too that it would be in ·the best interest. But they left it to my discretion, waiting to hear what Senator Murray thought. And I waited, and I waited, and I waited to hear from John Crosbie, and I waited. I did all this in good faith. I was up front with them, as I have been all along. And I waited until 2:30 and there  was no answer. 
We were about to reconvene, so I telephoned Senator' Murray. The secretary said, yes, I will let you speak to him, put the Premier on. I picked up the phone and waited, and they said, oh he was just leaving the office. And I turned on the television, and there he was, rolling the dice again, trying to put pressure on Newfoundland to do that which he knew was unlikely to be done. 
Saying to all the world, “It now all depends on Newfoundland” . We can find a solution to the problem in Manitoba, but Newfoundland can scuttle the whole thing, and if Newfoundland votes for it,  everything will be okay. We can go to the Supreme Court, but: if Newfoundland votes against it that will put it at an end.
What good would it do for us, in light of what transpired in Manitoba, to hold up our fists and say to Quebec, 'No! Never! It was a pointless exercise. I do not want to be offensive to my fellow citizens of Quebec, I want to be accommodating, and maybe if we left it there, maybe there is some way we can find a resolution to this terrible dilemma without confrontation and saying no, and have the Federal Government then translate to the people of Canada and Quebec, 'Newfoundland is rejecting Quebec'. I find that offensive, Mr. Speaker, to put the  people of this Province in that position. And I cannot accept it from Mr. Crosbie or Mr. Murray.