The ’95 Quebec Referendum: A 20th anniversary denigration

The ’95 Quebec Referendum: A 20th anniversary denigration

LiQ_Mag_Mar_2015_coverThis Ross Murray column first appeared in the March 2015 issue of Life in Québec Magazine.

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This year marks the 20th anniversary of the 1995 Quebec Referendum. No doubt, there will be lots of retrospectives ahead, even though the memories of that October night and the months leading up to it remain so fresh.

Who could forget, for example, the controversial wording of the referendum question: “Do you agree that Quebec should become sovereign from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday (with free weekend parking) within the scope of the bill respecting the future of this InterNet business, which we’re pretty sure is just a fad, though we’ve been wrong before, or not?”

The jumbled nature of the question was the result of the fractured sovereigntist movement itself. You had your hard-line sovereigntists, your soft sovereigntists, your fuzzy sovereigntists and even your 3-D hologram sovereigntists, although everyone agreed the latter lacked substance.

This lack of clarity was reflected in the “Yes” side’s leadership – grizzled veteran Jacques Parizeau, the hard-line premier of Quebec; the charismatic but conservative Lucien Bouchard of the Bloc Québécois; and Action Démocratique leader Mario Dumont, looking stunning in a Bob Mackey ball gown.

LiQ_Mag_Sub_BannerWhile Parizeau was the ostensible leader of the “Yes” forces, it was Bouchard, appointed negotiator, who ultimately inspired the separatist faithful. Often described as “messianic,” Bouchard had achieved almost mythical status after he lost his leg to flesh-eating Céline Dion.

Even when Bouchard stated that Quebecers had the lowest reproduction rate of any “white race,” he got away with the gaffe because it was in context of one of his trademark rap songs and was considered “totally phat.”

The “No” forces were led, you may recall, by Quebec Liberal leader Daniel L. Jackson, who spent the campaign travelling from town to town packed in a wooden crate, though sometimes they would forget to let him out. Prime Minister Jean Chrétien also rallied for Confederation with his catch phrase, “Canada? What’s wrong wid dat?”

But it was Jean Charest, then-leader of the federal Progressive Conservatives, who truly became a star as a result of the referendum. Who could forget that rally in Verdun when Charest promised constitutional reform if the “No” side won and then captured imaginations by bringing on stage a long-horned Albanian ram as a symbol of Canada’s strength, determination and ability to eat garbage? Gosh, that animal was adorable, or, as Lucien Bouchard would say, “fresh.”

Of course, there were many complicating factors – economics, the military, partition. Quebec’s First Nations, for example, insisted that their treaty rights be considered in any future negotiations, with the James Bay Cree suggesting that it would be a terrible shame if Hydro-Québec woke up some morning and found its water reservoirs unfortunately contaminated by vast quantities of gelatine powder…
Yes, it was a time of great upheaval—brothers turning against brothers, husbands turning against wives, Montrealers turning on red lights. It was anarchy!

In the days leading up to the vote, it looked like the Yes side had it dans le sac. But then that Unity Rally in Montréal, and that iconic image of the massive crowds hoisting high above their heads a gigantic flat-crust pizza—what a day!
Whether it was the pro-Canada sentiment or the extra cheese, the rally turned the tide, and on Oct. 30, 1995, the “No” side won with a mere 50.58 per cent of the vote. No one will ever forget a distraught Jacques Parizeau standing before disappointed supporters and blaming the defeat on “money and the ethnic goat.”

It was as close as Canada ever came to disintegrating. Thankfully, the 1995 Referendum put an end to talk of Quebec independence once and for all. At least, that’s how I like to remember it.

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About Author

Ross Murray

Ross Murray is an award-winning humorist and radio contributor and the author of two books ‘You’re Not Going to Eat That, Are You?’ and ‘Don’t Everyone Jump at Once’. Raised in Nova Scotia, Ross has lived in the Eastern Townships of Quebec since the early 1990’s with his wife Debbie, four children and far too many pets. After all this time, Ross feels comfortable calling himself a Townshipper; his neighbours call him something else.

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