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Brian Mulroney

Martin Brian Mulroney, PC, CC, GOQ, lawyer, businessman, politician, prime minister of Canada 1984 to 1993 (born 20 March 1939 in Baie-Comeau, QC). Former Progressive Conservative Party leader Brian Mulroney helped his party win the most seats ever (211) in the 1984 election. As prime minister, he signed a landmark free trade deal with the United States and Mexico (NAFTA) and oversaw passage of the unpopular Goods and Services Tax (GST). He also spent much political capital trying unsuccessfully to persuade Quebec to sign the Constitution. (See Meech Lake Accord; Charlottetown Accord.) Mulroney took a strong stance against apartheid and made great strides in protecting the environment. But his historically low popularity led to an unprecedented defeat in 1993, which sent the Conservative Party into disarray for a decade.

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Meech Lake Accord (Plain-Language Summary)

The Meech Lake Accord was a failed attempt to add Quebec’s consent to the Constitution. It would have made provincial powers stronger. It also would have declared Quebec a “distinct society.” Support for the Accord fell apart in 1990. Many Québécois saw this as a rejection of Quebec. Support for separatism soared there. It eventually led to the 1995 Quebec Referendum.

(This article is a plain-language summary of the Meech Lake Accord. If you are interested in reading about this topic in more depth, please see our full-length entry, Meech Lake Accord.)

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Federalism in Canada

Federalism is a political system in which government power and responsibility is divided between a federal legislature and state or provincial legislatures. A true federation, in the modern sense, is a state in which the smaller parts are not sovereign and cannot legally secede. In practice, Canadian federalism has swung between the extremes of centralizing control and decentralizing it. The federal government has jurisdiction over the entire country. Each provincial government has jurisdiction over its portion of the population and region. Both levels of government get their authority from Canada’s written Constitution; but it includes features that are incompatible with a strict approach to federalism. Canadian federalism has been tested throughout the country’s history. It remains a subject of great debate.

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Charlottetown Accord

The Charlottetown Accord of 1992 was a failed attempt by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and all 10 provincial premiers to amend the Canadian Constitution. The goal was to obtain Quebec’s consent to the Constitution Act, 1982. The Accord would have recognized Quebec as a distinct society; decentralized many federal powers to the provinces; addressed the issue of Indigenous self-government; and reformed the Senate and the House of Commons. The Accord had the approval of the federal government and all 10 provincial governments. But it was rejected by Canadian voters in a referendum on 26 October 1992.

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Charlottetown Accord (Plain-Language Summary)

The Charlottetown Accord of 1992 was a failed attempt to add Quebec’s consent to the Constitution. The Accord would have recognized Quebec as a “distinct society.” It would have given many federal powers to the provinces; addressed the issue of Indigenous self-government; and reformed the Senate and the House of Commons. The Accord was approved by the federal government and all 10 provinces. But it was rejected by the public in a referendum on 26 October 1992.

(This article is a plain-language summary of the Charlottetown Accord. If you are interested in reading about this topic in more depth, please see our full-length entry, Charlottetown Accord.)

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Constitutional History of Canada

The Constitution of Canada is the country’s governing legal framework. It defines the powers of the executive branches of government and of the legislatures at both the federal and provincial levels. Canada’s Constitution is not one legal document. It is a complex mix of statutes, orders, British and Canadian court decisions, and generally accepted practices known as constitutional conventions. The Constitution has been in constant evolution from colonial times to the present day. The story of the Constitution is the story of Canada itself. It reflects the shifting legal, social and political pressures facing Canadians, as well as their choices as a society.