Quebec and natives secure autonomy deal

Click to follow
The Independent Online
OTTAWA - Canada's leaders struck a deal with the French- speaking province of Quebec on Saturday on far-reaching constitutional changes aimed at keeping the country united. The accord will overhaul the 125-year-old Canadian confederation by reforming parliament and sharing out federal powers with the 10 provinces, in a move to meet Quebec's demands for more autonomy.

'Quebec has made unprecedented gains,' Brian Mulroney, the Prime Minister, said. 'We have a fair and honourable compromise that will strengthen Canada.' But the opposition Parti Quebecois accused Quebec's Premier, Robert Bourassa, of betraying the French-speaking province. 'Robert Bourassa has signed the definitive surrender of Quebec's national hopes, and he will carry an immeasurable responsibility with him into history,' said the Parti Quebecois Vice President, Bernard Landry.

The agreement is expected to end years of uncertainty over whether Quebec will remain in Canada, but must be ratified by parliament and the provincial legislatures. The historic deal grants self- rule to Canada's 750,000 native Americans and Inuit (Eskimos). Quebec won a guarantee of 25 per cent of the seats in Canada's House of Commons to allay its fear of being swamped by English- speaking Canada due to a declining birth rate. Canada's appointed Senate will become an elected body with equal representation for all provinces. Quebec obtained constitutional recognition as a distinct society within Canada, ensuring the survival of the French language and culture, and its legal code. It won powers to veto future changes to federal institutions and the creation of new provinces.

'I'm very pleased with the results,' Robert Bourassa, the Quebec Prime Minister, said. 'Canada is on the way to stability after two years of uncertainty . . . those Quebeckers who believe in peace and prosperity will be happy,' he added. The reforms will shift federal powers to the provinces, giving them exclusive jurisdiction over mining, forestry, tourism, urban affairs, housing and recreation.

They commit Ottawa to make agreements with the provinces on culture, immigration, telecommunications, labour training and regional development which will transfer billions of dollars and thousands of civil service jobs.

Mr Mulroney is expected to call a referendum on the reform package ahead of a vote in Quebec in late October, in which Quebeckers will decide on their future relations with Canada.

Native leaders said the deal, which allows them to raise taxes and run their affairs on reservations, integrated them for the first time since Canada was founded in 1867. 'There are 750,000 aboriginal people out there that will have a place in Canada that they did not have before,' Ron George, leader of the Native Council of Canada, said.