Significance of Charlottetown Accord and Its Defeat 30 Years Ago, Anna Di Carlo –
Anna Di Carlo is the national leader of the Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada.
October 26, 2022 marked the 30th anniversary of the Referendum on the Charlottetown Accord and the defeat of the establishment forces that day by the Canadian people.
The Charlottetown Accord, entitled Consensus Report on the Constitution, was a deal reached behind closed doors by then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, provincial and territorial leaders and other elite in Charlottetown on August 28, 1992, in the wake of the failure of the Meech Lake Accord. The deal aimed to enshrine the status quo in the Constitution and turn over to Canada’s first ministers — the prime minister and the provincial premiers — the right to make decisions on behalf of the Canadian people. The Charlottetown Accord would have given them carte blanche to do as they pleased, with the Canadian people marginalized to the role of voting cattle every few years.
As is still the case today, at that time a broad discontent with the political process and the politicians prevailed across the country, rooted in the feeling that the people exercise no control over their affairs. The question of where the sovereignty lies — with the monarch or the people — came to the fore. The Charlottetown Accord retained the clause vesting sovereignty in a foreign monarch, with the justification that the monarch is merely titular head of state. This smokescreen failed to divert the people from the need to vest sovereignty in the people. Far from being willing to give up their decision-making power, the people showed themselves to be deeply concerned about the constitutional affairs of Canada and laying down the fundamental law of the land.
The concern of the people over the state of affairs was reflected in the extent to which people participated in the referendum. Nationally, 73 per cent of eligible voters voted. The 1993 election which reduced the Mulroney Conservatives to two seats in the House of Commons saw a turnout of 69.6 per cent and since then there has been a constant decline in voting participation with relatively minor fluctuations, ranging from a low of 58.8 per cent in the 2008 election, to what is considered a “high” estimated 68.1 per cent turnout for the October 2015 election, higher than the turnout for the 2019 election at 67 per cent, and the turnout for the 2021 election at 62.6 per cent.
The number of people who voted “No” was 7,550,723 (54.2 per cent) and the number who voted “Yes” was 6,185, 902 (44.8 per cent). Only Newfoundland, New Brunswick and the Northwest Territories, voted “Yes.” All other provinces and the Yukon voted “No.” In Ontario there was virtually a tie, with 49.8 per cent voting “Yes” and 49.6 per cent voting “No.”
Following their defeat in the referendum, the ruling elite declared “business as usual,” meaning they would continue ruling through the executive power, including bringing about the changes they wanted without amending the Constitution, because nothing in the current arrangements impeded them from doing so.
To this day, the ruling elite have closed the door to re-opening the Constitution because of their profound fear that the striving of the people for empowerment will be once again unleashed. The Liberal 2015 Election Platform declared in regard to Senate reform, “We also believe that government should focus its efforts on the priorities of Canadians, not on more rounds of constitutional negotiations.”
On October 19, 2022, speaking in the House of Commons about the obligation for Members of the Quebec National Assembly to swear allegiance to the King of England, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said debates about the monarchy are “far down the list of people’s priorities.”
“Quebeckers, like Canadians, want us to worry about the cost of living, the jobs of the future, climate change and that’s what we’re going to spend our time on,” Trudeau said. “What I can tell you is that there is no Quebecker who wants the Constitution to be reopened,” he added.
The profoundly and universally held opposition of the ruling elite to reopening constitutional talks lies in their 1992 Referendum experience. With the Referendum on the Charlottetown Accord, Canadians began to make the link between the Constitution and political rights inherent to citizenship and to their lack of control over decisions in their daily lives.
Hardial Bains, the leader of the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) and the Committee to Vote No on October 26 spearheaded by the Party, pointed out. “In its simplest form, this question became very focused around the issue of whether or not the Constitution should guarantee some fundamental rights such as the right to education, or whether this and other social rights would remain at the level of privileges to be bestowed or taken away at the whim of the government of the day, as was being proposed by including a ‘social charter’ in the Charlottetown Accord.”
“Canadians started to grapple with the fact that the Canadian constitution recognizes neither the citizens that comprise the Canadian polity, nor the rights and duties that belong to them by virtue of being human and by virtue of being members of the polity. One of the other developments that took place in this period was a distinct emergence of Canadians as a people and their broad opposition to the racist concept of ‘two founding nations’ and their demand for the recognition of the equality of all citizens regardless of their national origin, language spoken, etc.” Quebec’s national rights and the hereditary rights of the Indigenous peoples continued to be denied.
When John A. Macdonald declared that in Canada there are “no rights, only privileges” there was no illusion that the government defended the rights and freedoms of the people, Hardial Bains wrote. He pointed to the patriation of the Constitution and the inclusion of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982, noting they served to create illusions about the degree to which rights and freedoms are guaranteed. However when push comes to shove, Hardial Bains said, “the Canadian people find the same dictate of no rights, only privileges.”
The Canadian people can no longer operate within the existing constitutional set up, Hardial Bains concluded.
“The limitations imposed on them by the Constitution, by the negation of their sovereignty and their right to determine their own constitution, and by the political and electoral process in which they have no role in actually governing the country are shackling their every move when it comes to dealing with any of the problems they face.” It is a law of limitations, he said, which denies Canadians “the possibilities to deal with the myriad problems plaguing the society.”
Faced with the effort of the Canadian establishment to end the constitutional issue, the members of the Committee to Vote No on October 26, turned their outrage at this situation into a practical program to empower the people so that they can exercise control over their lives.
The National Council for Renewal was founded on December 19, 1992 in Toronto. In a signature campaign, 25,000 people across the country endorsed the founding of the Canadian Renewal Party in April 1993, a non-partisan association to continue the work for the renewal of the political process. A Canada-Wide Campaign for a Modern Constitution and Democratic Renewal was launched in the fall of 1994.
The two diametrically opposed positions that emerged with the referendum campaign on the Charlottetown Accord highlight the importance and need for a Canada-Wide Campaign to this very day.
One position is that the Canada Act, 1982 has no relevance to the Canadian people; it declares Canadian “democracy as we know it” to be just fine if only it is not abused and that the problems facing the Canadian people and society fall into some other sphere, be it economic or cultural or social, or in terms of changing government policy on this or that issue.
The other position, which is at the heart of the program of CPC(M-L), is that Canadian society has come to a point where its development is being obstructed by its constitutional foundation which is rooted in the British North America Act, 1867 and the political process which continues to be premised on what is called the monarch’s democracy — the constitutional order and Westminster system of government that keeps the political power out of the hands of the people.
The inability of the ruling circles to resolve the crisis of governance and modernize the political arrangements 30 years ago has led to further degeneration in the political, social and economic life of the country. Today Canadians and Quebeckers feel the absence of political power more than ever as their claims on society are ignored while schemes to pay the rich further integrate Canadian human and natural resources into the U.S. war economy. The constitutional crisis is so profound that the legislatures at every level no longer function to serve a public good but merely impose limitations on the peoples rights and freedoms in the name of economic stability and national security. Governments of police powers have become a resolving door between cabinet positions and private corporations which is proof that narrow private interests have been politicized – they have directly taken over government functions.
The situation facing Canadians today makes clear the urgent necessity to join in the work for political renewal and a modern constitution to resolve the crisis in which the constitutional order is mired in a manner which favours the people.
- “Themes Emerging Out of The Canada-wide Campaign for a Modern Constitution and Democratic Renewal: Why a Canada-wide Campaign?” TML Daily, October 2, 1994 — No. 226.