20 years ago... another view
Further to yesterday's post, in which I was casting back to the death of Meech and the Liberal convention, I've been getting some messages and calls from fellow nostalgics.
Sheila Gervais, who was executive director of the Liberal Party at the time, has done a lengthy blog post of her own about her memories of the time. You can find it in full here. I've put some excerpts below, including some neat insights into how the country ended up with a leadership vote and constitutional deadline on the very same day.
The only logistically feasible available dates in Calgary for the mounting of a Convention of this size were June 18-25, 1990 and when Quebec Party President and known Martin supporter, Francis Fox vehemently pointed out the folly in securing a date that could see the actual vote occur on the exact deadline for the approval of the Meech Lake Accord – June 23, 1990 – there was understanding, but, never mind, it was inconceivable that the process would run the full course, and we’ll create a “Meech Lake Strategy” Committee to deal with it just in case. It was far from as cavalier as that, and in the end the decision was made without a recorded resolution; we just sent out a little puff of consensual smoke.
While the country was watching this unfold, Chrétien, not so quietly, was sewing the Leadership up, Meech or no Meech, debates or not. Historical connections and the advantages accorded those with years of service and notoriety in Government and the Party, combined with access to formidable funding and a lame Canada Elections Act, helped as much as Chrétien’s popular nature. By the time delegate selection began in March, it was well known that according to (unverifiable) membership sales, Chrétien would likely have a first ballot victory in June. The Party was preparing to unite behind a new Leader, but the Meech Lake Accord would continue to divide.
That evening, as the Leadership candidates’ speeches took place on stage, some of Mr. Martin’s supporters solemnly sported black arm bands to mark The Accord’s passing. Clyde Wells, arriving after the close of registration, greeted Chrétien with a widely publicized smile and embrace.
At the morning meeting the following day, June 23, the day of the leadership vote, we continued our negotiations with Mr. Turner. A bit later in the day, but before the balloting and results of Leadership vote itself, the Party was ready to announce its new executive. Don Johnston, a former Trudeau and Turner cabinet minister, who had resigned from the caucus to sit as an “independent Liberal” in 1988 over free trade and the Meech Lake Accord had just been elected Party President. I’m not a large person and cell-phone technology at the time was not designed for convenience. My phone, about as large as me, rang immediately. As we met for the first time, behind the stage in the centre of the Saddledome, Mr. Johnston asked me how the announcement of the Leadership vote would proceed. “Well, Mr. Johnston”, I said, “we’re not sure about that. Perhaps you could bear with me for a bit.”