Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Mystique of the Quebec Referendum, 1995

The Mystique of the Quebec Referendum, 1995

By Natsumi Koshigaya
The Daily Magi
January 10, 2060


The 1995 Quebec referendum was the second referendum to ask voters in the Canadian province of Quebec whether Quebec should secede from Canada and become an independent state, through the question:
    Do you agree that Quebec should become sovereign after having made a formal offer to Canada for a new economic and political partnership within the scope of the bill respecting the future of Quebec and of the agreement signed on June 12, 1995?.


The 1995 referendum differed from the first referendum on Quebec's sovereignty in that the 1980 question proposed to negotiate "sovereignty-association" with the Canadian government, while the 1995 question proposed "sovereignty", along with an optional partnership offer to the rest of Canada.

The referendum took place in Quebec on October 30, 1995, and the motion to decide whether Quebec should secede from Canada was defeated by a very narrow margin of 50.58% "No" to 49.42% "Yes".

Sovereignty for Quebec was rejected by voters, but by a smaller margin than in 1980, with 50.58% voting "No" and 49.42% voting "Yes". A record 94% of 5,087,009 registered Quebecers voted in the referendum. Sovereignty was the choice of francophones by an estimated majority of about 60%, but the heavily populated western part of the Montreal island, home to a large anglophone population, voted "No". The far North, the Outaouais, and the Eastern Townships also voted "No".

There was a majority "Yes" vote in 81 out of 125 National Assembly ridings, but they tended to be less-populated ridings. Except for areas of First Nations peoples, the "No" vote was concentrated in urban ridings. Addressing a packed room of "Yes" supporters while live on television, Jacques Parizeau blamed the result on "money and ethnic votes". Many criticized his comments.

The day after the referendum, Jacques Parizeau resigned as the leader of the Parti Québécois, as he had said he would do in an interview with TVA taped days before the referendum but not made public until after the vote. Lucien Bouchard was the only candidate to succeed him. Bouchard became Premier on January 29, 1996. Over the course of the next few years, support for sovereignty decreased. Despite winning reelection in 1998, the PQ chose not to hold another referendum, waiting for "winning conditions". The PQ would lose the 2003 provincial election to the Liberal Party of Quebec, led by Jean Charest.

Before the referendum, federalists promised reform of the federal system to be more accommodating to Quebec's concerns. After the referendum, only limited reforms were made, such as a federal law requiring the approval of certain regions (including Quebec) to amend the constitution. The federal government also pursued what Chrétien called "Plan B", to try to convince voters that economic and legal obstacles would follow if Quebec were to declare itself sovereign. This culminated in the federal government's 2000 Clarity Act which stated that any future referendum would have to be on a "clear question" and that it would have to represent a "clear majority" for the federal Parliament to recognize its validity. The meaning of both a "clear question" and a "clear majority" is left unspecified in the act, which was criticized by some.

Following the narrow victory, the Chrétien government established a pro-Canada advertising campaign. The aim was to sponsor hunting, fishing and other recreational events, and in doing so promote Canada within Quebec. While many of the events sponsored were legitimate, a large sum of money was mismanaged. Auditor General Sheila Fraser released a report in November 2003, outlining the problems. This eventually led to the Gomery Commission's investigation of the so-called Sponsorship Scandal. Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe argued that Canada was trying to "buy" federalism and using it as an excuse to channel dirty money into Liberal-friendly pockets. This scandal's extensive coverage in Quebec contributed support to the sovereignty movement.

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