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1995 Quebec referendum
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 Québécois and the Action Démocratique and several diverse organizations.
The question posed on the ballots was: "Acceptez-vous que le Québec devienne souverain, après avoir offert formellement au Canada un nouveau partenariat économique et politique, dans le cadre du projet de loi sur l'avenir du Québec et de l'entente signée 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 June 12 agreement , signed by Jacques Parizeau of the Parti Québécois, Lucien Bouchard, then leader of the Bloc Québécois and Mario Dumont of the Action démocratique du Québec was sent to every household in Quebec weeks before the vote. But many federalists argued that the question was unclear.
Campaigning for the "No" side were those in favour of the status quo and reformists opposed to the secession of Quebec.
- Prime Minister Jean Chrétien (Liberal Party of Canada)
- Quebec Liberal leader Daniel Johnson
- Federal Progressive Conservative Party leader Jean Charest
Campaigning for the "Yes" side were those in favour of Quebec independence and association negotiation.
- Premier of Quebec Jacques Parizeau (Parti Québécois)
- Federal Bloc Québécois leader Lucien Bouchard
- Mario Dumont (ADQ party)
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.
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 Chrétien gave a televised address, but many found Lucien Bouchard's rebuttal to be far more effective.
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|
After the election, controversy arose over whether Parti Québécois scrutineers had discarded 'no' ballots. The sovereignists also attacked the federalists for 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 both allegations, but there were no consequences to those who had taken part.
Before the referendum, federalists promised reform of the federal system to be more accomodating 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 (see 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 Québécois and its leader, Bernard Landry, to take back power in the next election (predicted to be in 2007) and win a referendum on independence shortly after, ideally in 2008, year of the 400th anniversary of the foundation of Quebec City (and, therefore, of Canada). This is the The 2000 Days Strategy .
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