Rafe Remembers Elijah Harper, Constitutional Stand-off


In a way I share an experience with the late Elijah Harper, who nixed the Meech Lake Accord. I have been airbrushed out of CKNW’s history – Rafe Who? – while the late Mr. Harper is a national non-event thanks to the Central Canadian Establishment.

The background to Meech is pretty straightforward. Brian Mulroney needed political help in Quebec and persuaded all the premiers to support a set of constitutional reforms – labelled the Meech Lake Accord –  whereby all the other premiers would postpone their constitutional ambitions until Quebec was settled nicely away with its “Distinct Society” designation AND a veto over all future constitutional proposals. If you’ve advanced past Politics 101 you will see that once satisfied, Quebec could and would veto other changes such as Senate reform. It was a colossal mistake and one can only assume it was contracted on the back of an envelope during the cocktail hour.

It was agreed that every province had to ratify it by June 1990.

With a few hours to go, Manitoba Premier Gary Filmon moved that the Meech Lake Accord be debated and asked special leave, which was needed, to bring it forward. One has to ask why Filmon waited til the bitter end. The special leave was refused by Elijah Harper, who passed away last week, and Meech Lake was dead.

The Newfoundland and Labrador agreement was given under Tory Brian Peckford but rescinded by the Liberal government of Clyde Wells who had scheduled its vote to follow that of Manitoba. When Manitoba failed to ratify, Premier Wells canceled the Newfoundland and Labrador vote.

Mulroney was livid. He didn’t want to dump on fellow Tory Filmon and to criticize an Indian, as Harper was, was unthinkable. He therefore railed at Clyde Wells, whose decision to withdraw the motion was based on the very sensible view that he shouldn’t divide his province after the deal had failed in Manitoba.

The Meech Lake Accord failed and to many like me it was time to thank God for his blessing.

Mulroney tried again with the Charlottetown Accord but by that time Quebec and BC stated that they would hold referenda.

It failed – spectacularly. I did my best, from behind my microphone at CKNW, to help it go down in BC.

Charlottetown quickly became a non-event.

Mulroney’s press secretary, Bill Fox, wrote a book on the Mulroney years in which there was one sentence about Meech and not a peep about Charlottetown!

Thus, the way the people in charge deal with their losses!


About Rafe Mair

Rafe Mair, LL.B, LL.D (Hon) a B.C. MLA 1975 to 1981, was Minister of Environment from late 1978 through 1979. In 1981 he left politics for Talk Radio becoming recognized as one of B.C.'s pre-eminent journalists. An avid fly fisherman, he took a special interest in Atlantic salmon farms and private power projects as environmental calamities and became a powerful voice in opposition to them. Rafe is the co-founder of The Common Sense Canadian and writes a regular blog at rafeonline.com.

1 thought on “Rafe Remembers Elijah Harper, Constitutional Stand-off

  1. Monday, 20 May 2013 15:02 posted by Damien Gillis

    Well that’s one perspective, Rene. Never let facts get in the way of a good opinion. Clearly, one person’s “anglo-chauvinist bigotry” is another’s sense of constitutional fairness, political good sense, and reaction to a cynical power play by one of Cabada’s most corrupt politicians. You ascribe to Rafe the birth of the Bloc, the creation and failure of subsequent referenda, even encouraging violence. I’d caution you about libel if this wasn’t so laughable. He did help kill Charlottetown though. Along with Preston Manning, Pierre Trudeau, and no less than 7 out of 12 provinces and territories – even Bouchard and Parizeau (for their own reasons, of course).

    Monday, 20 May 2013 12:47 posted by Rene

    Yes, I recall you always have been waging a battle against Quebec, from your days as BC’s Chief delegate for the Socred government involved in the unilateral repatriation of the constitution – you gave one to Quebec there – to your radio talk show advocacy against the constitutional compromise of the Meech Lake Accord – not for high sounding principles but as an expression of anglo-chauvinist bigotry, to the failure of the Accord, the ensuing political crisis, the creation of the Bloc and the subsequent Referendum in Quebec – for which you take full credit, to your subsequent radio talk show advocacy of armed intervention against Quebec in the midst of the ensuing hysteria in English Canada following the chain of events you, and others of your mindset, had set in motion. Quite a record to be proud of.

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