Distinct Society

Designation of the Province of Quebec in the failed 1987-1990 Meech Lake Accord1 [see Meech Lake Accord] and a flashpoint for the bitter national unity debate of that period.

The term “Distinct Society” became a highly charged Rorschach [inkblot] Test for Canadians; those who favoured strong central government saw it as the demise of Canada, while those seeking to accommodate Quebec nationalism saw it as a minimum requirement for keeping the country together.

One reason for the acrimony was the purposely (and very Canadian) ambiguous term itself, and the varying degrees of murkiness as to its actual meaning. This lack of clarity encouraged both sides to imbue the term with meanings heavier than perhaps intended. Moreover, supporters of the Meech Lake Accord seemed to give different definitions of “Distinct Society” depending on which language they were speaking.

The constitutional entrenchment of “Distinct Society” status for Quebec died with the failure of the Meech Lake Accord in 1990. Many years after the 1995 Quebec Referendum (and its narrow victory for unity) in an effort to reach out to Quebeckers, the Harper led-Conservatives passed a resolution affirming Quebec as a “Distinct Society”. The Parliamentary resolution, they asserted, had no constitutional ramifications. Quebec nationalists deemed it a tepid, essentially meaningless gesture. Canadian nationalists regarded the resolutions as dangerous pandering to Separatists.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons


  1. Lewis, Flora. Meech Lake: Is Mulroney a 'weakling'?. CBC Digital Archives.

See More Parli