Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Regrets/no regrets: Hebert and Coyne on 25 years since Meech Lake

Eleven white guys in a room
I kinda missed the 25th anniversary of the ending of the Meech Lake constitutional amendment process last week. I was always of the Michael Bliss opinion. "It will be a disaster if it fails. And a disaster if it passes," was his take, shortly before it failed. But the failure we could get over, I thought, while we'd be stuck with the success forever.

Chantal H├ębert, rather to my surprise, regrets the failure.  Andrew Coyne, in a column that may have been inspired by hers, charts some of what we would have been stuck with, including annual first ministers' meetings on the constitution and the economy. Constitutionally required. Forever.

I do remember the last day of the Meech Lake siege. That day I was in a long meeting with Janet Lunn.  We were planning The Story of Canada, and kinda hoping there would still be one when it appeared. Other than that, I was not very engaged.

When The Story of Canada did appear, the country was in the midst of the referendum on the Charlottetown Accord. I don't know if the national angst and anxiety that referendum produced is well remembered; I'm not much for putting things parliaments should handle to referendum, but that one certainly did command the national mood for a while.

It also did wonders for our book promotion. In the midst of all that national stewing, here we were with a big, bright, colourful, lively kids-and-families history of Canada that said, "Hey, there's some pretty great stories here."  Reviewers, interviewers, readers practically fell on our shoulders and wept in gratitude.

Those now-distant crises also started me, until then mostly a daily-life, ordinary-people, social-and-economic historian, thinking that maybe somebody ought to be looking at the historical origins of our constitutional conundrums.

Maybe I owe Brian Mulroney something.
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