The government's struggle to keep French-speaking Quebec from voting on independence cleared a major hurdle when a committee produced a report all parties could agree on.
After holding a series of conferences across the country seeking public input on changes to the constitution, the special committee turned in its report just 54 minutes before the deadline of midnight Friday.The text was to have been released Saturday, but release was put off until Sunday. Officials cited "production problems" with the text.
The report calls for Quebec to be recognized in the constitution as a "distinct society," one of the province's main demands, and proposes a new division of power between Ottawa and the provinces. It also calls for an elected Senate, a social charter to protect the country's social programs, and recognition of the right of Canada's aboriginal peoples to self-government.
"Nobody's going to get exactly what they want - not Quebec, not Alberta, not Ontario, not aboriginals," Joe Clark, Canada's minister for constitutional affairs, said Saturday.
But the report showed "remarkable unanimity" among the committee's Conservative, Liberal and New Democrat members, he said.
Members of the liberal New Democratic Party said they won agreement on a strong social charter, to balance economic proposals that would strike down barriers to trade among the provinces.
"If we have the agreement we think we have, we're satisfied with it," said Lorne Nystrom, a critic of constitutional reform.
Jacques Parizeau, leader of Quebec's separatist Parti Quebecois, said the last-minute political wrangling in writing the report was "a tiresome event."
"It's sad," he said. "I don't like laughing at the problems of others, but it is clear from (Friday's) episode that it bordered on buffoonery."
Quebec long has felt that the language and culture of its 61/2 million people were threatened by the sea of anglophones that surrounds it. It has demanded special powers to protect and promote that language and culture and more authority over its own affairs.