1995 Quebec referendum

From Academic Kids

Law project about the referendum and eventual declaration of independence.

The 1995 Quebec referendum was the second referendum in Quebec (see 1980 Quebec referendum) that put to public vote the role of Quebec within Canada and whether Quebec should pursue a path toward independent statehood ("sovereignty").

The referendum was the culmination of years of rising support for autonomy (see Quiet Revolution) and rising discontent in Quebec about perceived English Canadian contempt and disregard (see Meech Lake Accord). It was brought forward by Quebec's governing party, the Parti Québécois (PQ), which strongly favoured secession, and approved by two other parties, the Bloc Qubcois and the Action démocratique du Québec (ADQ), and various other organizations.

The province-wide referendum took place on October 30, 1995, and the motion to pursue Quebec's secession was narrowly defeated by a 50.58 per cent to 49.42 per cent margin.


The question

Audio: Listen to the question as spoken first in the National Assembly of Quebec by Jacques Parizeau

The question posed on the ballots was: "Acceptez-vous que le Qubec devienne souverain, aprs avoir offert formellement au Canada un nouveau partenariat conomique et politique, dans le cadre du projet de loi sur l'avenir du Qubec et de l'entente signe le 12 juin 1995?"

The English translation was also on the ballot: "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 text of "The 1995 tripartite agreement on Sovereignty" (the "June 12 agreement"), signed by Jacques Parizeau of the Parti Québécois, Lucien Bouchard, then leader of the Bloc Québécois and Mario Dumont of the ADQ, was sent to every household in Quebec weeks before the vote. But many federalists argued that the question was unclear.

The participants

Chrtien speaks on television before the vote.
Chrtien speaks on television before the vote.


Campaigning for the "No" side were those in favour of the status quo and reformists opposed to the secession of Quebec.

Key federalists:

Bouchard speaks on television before the vote.
Bouchard speaks on television before the vote.


Campaigning for the "Yes" side were those in favour of Quebec independence and association negotiation.

Key sovereigntists:

The campaign

Early polls indicated that 60 per cent of Quebecers would vote no, and for the first few weeks, the sovereignist campaign led by Parizeau made little headway. Jean Chrétien mostly stayed out of the debate leaving Johnson to be the main federalist representative. Early federalist gaffes included Paul Martin arguing Quebec would lose a million jobs if it separated and a federalist speaker declaring that federalists should not only defeat, but "crush" sovereignists.

Seeing that the 'yes' side was making little progress, the far-more-popular Lucien Bouchard rose to a more prominent role among sovereignists. Under Bouchard the numbers began to change and new polls showed a majority of Quebecers intending to vote yes. Quebecers were also inflamed by isolated groups, especially in western Canada, who said that Canada should "get rid" of Quebec. Bouchard stumbled, however, remarking that Quebecers were the "white race" with the lowest rate of reproduction, possibly losing the favour of some non-white voters. He quickly and clearly stated after the remark that it was said with no disrespect whatsoever. It was merely a reflexion on the low birth rate problem, as seen and debated about in most modern industrialized nations, but badly formulated.

Missing image
Lucien Bouchard (L) and Jacques Parizeau (R) embrace on the stage of a OUI rally in 1995.

Still, days before the referendum it looked as though the sovereignists would win. Chrétien promised a new deal for Quebec within Canada if Quebecers voted to stay. A massive rally was held in downtown Montreal where Canadians, who had benefited from up to 90 per cent discounts on train and plane tickets from federal public institutions, came to express their support for a 'no' vote. Jean Chrtien gave a televised address, but many found Lucien Bouchard's rebuttal to be far more effective.

The results

The referendum saw a Canadian record 94 per cent of registered voters vote with a slim majority, 50.58 per cent voting "No" to 49.42 per cent voting "Yes".

  Total votes % of votes
No 2,362,648 50.58%
Yes 2,308,360 49.42%
Valid ballots 4,671,008 98.18%
Rejected ballots 86,501 1.82%
Participation rate 4,757,509 93.52%
Registered voters 5,087,009  

Disputes over the conduct of the referendum

After the election, controversy arose over whether Parti Québécois scrutineers had discarded 'no' ballots. In May of 2005, Former PQ cabinet minister Richard Le Hir, who has left the sovereignty movement, has claimed that the PQ government actively tried to sway the vote by sending "scrutineer shock troops" drawn from pro-sovereignty labour unions into polling stations in areas with large concentrations of anglophone and allophone voters. These scrutineers were to obstruct and reject valid No votes in order to "neutralize the adversary". Le Hir says that the strategy resulted from a belief in the PQ that the citizenships of recent immigrants had been "fast-tracked" in order to increase the No vote.

PQ officials of the time have denied that there was any such plan and stated that Le Hir's allegations are untrue, suggesting that Le Hir is fantasizing or looking for ways to keep his name in the media.

In 1996, Quebec Superior Court Justice Alan B. Gold concluded that there was no systematic plot to steal ballots, but found that there was some fraud in four ridings with unusually high levels of ballot rejection. Source: Montreal Gazette, 19 May 2005 (http://www.canada.com/montreal/montrealgazette/news/story.html?id=c8fec10d-a35e-426a-80ef-2c881fba49bc&rfp=dta)

The sovereignists attacked the federalists for what they called gross violations of spending limits by making use of friendly corporations such as Air Canada and Bell Canada, notably for the rally in Montreal.

Later reviews substantiated the allegations of both sides, but there were no consequences to those who had taken part.

The effects

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. Rather, the federal government strategy to gain support for federalism in Quebec focused more on 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 1998 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, meaning that the federal government can decide upon its definition even after a successful referendum.

Over the course of the next few years, support for sovereignty and for any sort of constitutional change declined markedly (the "Post-Referendum Syndrome"). While the PQ was re-elected and remained in power until 2003, another referendum was not held. After the PQ lost the provincial election to Jean Charest's federalist Liberals, support for sovereignty began to climb steadily to a point where 'yes' voting intentions outnumbered 'no' voting intentions according to a SOM poll conducted in December 2003. It is now the plan of the Parti Qubcois and its leader, to take back power in the next election (predicted to be in 2008) and win a referendum on independence shortly after, ideally the same year, year of the 400th anniversary of the foundation of Quebec City (and, therefore, of Canada). This is the 2000 Days Strategy.

See also

External links


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