OTTAWA — Seeking to halt Quebec's secessionist drive, the federal government and premiers from Canada's nine English-speaking provinces have agreed to the Francophone region's demands for special treatment.
The measures, which are part of a wide-ranging constitutional reform plan reached late Tuesday, appear to address all the main points of dispute between Quebec and the other provinces.
Under the pact, Quebec would be recognized in the Constitution as a "distinct society." Quebec would also get a veto over future changes to federal institutions with a requirement that any reforms have unanimous consent of all provinces.
"I think it's the basis of permitting Quebec to join in a formal way the Constitution of Canada," said Saskatchewan Premier Roy Romanow. Quebec, citing concerns over preserving its French language and culture, refused to sign Canada's 1981 Constitution.
The accord also permits native self-government, makes the Senate an elected body, and dismantles provincial trade barriers.
It transfers some federal powers to the provinces - each could now promote culture as it sees fit - and contains a statement to ensure that all Canadians will have equal access to social programs such as universal health care.
The package still must be approved by the federal and provincial governments, including Quebec, which boycotted the negotiations. It was not immediately clear when the package would be put to a vote. And Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa is still required to hold a provincial referendum by Oct. 26 on autonomy or secession.