Canadians vote NO to the Charlottetown Accord

Criticized as a “dog’s breakfast” of constitutional reform, the confusing Charlottetown Accord fails to gain the support of a majority of Canadians.

In the wake of the failed Meech Lake Accord in 1990, Canada’s political leaders got together for one more attempt at securing Quebec’s support for the new constitution, which had been reformed eight years earlier.

The Meech Lake Accord had proposed to grant sweeping powers of autonomy to Quebec. One of the factors that contributed to its failure to be ratified by all of the provinces was the opposition of some Canadians who either felt left out of the constitutional discussions and reforms or felt that it would jeopardize their individual or collective rights. Among others, this included certain Indigenous groups, advocates of Senate reform, and members of official language minority communities who were concerned that the Meech Lake Accord would define Canada’s linguistic duality along a “French Quebec / English Rest-of-Canada” territorial axis instead of along pan-Canadian lines.

The result, in 1992, was the Charlottetown Accord, developed with input from these various groups along with the federal and provincial governments. It proposed a plethora of changes to the constitution, some of which were criticized for being ill-defined, contradictory or a threat to individual rights and national unity. In October, a referendum was held in which 54% of Canadians—including 58% of Quebecers—voted NO. Mentally exhausted from two decades of wrangling, Canadians collectively decided to set aside the question of constitutional reform.