The economic, cultural and social reference newspaper in Montreal and Quebec
It's been 25 years since the last referendum on Quebec sovereignty. The beautiful province came within a few decimal points (50.58 % for the No, against 49.42 % for the Yes) of realizing the dream of becoming a free state. A quarter of a century later, where does the referendum question stand?
On the evening of October 30, 1995, the eyes of the entire country were riveted to the screens, awaiting a result that could have changed the face of Quebec forever. Would Quebec become a sovereign state? However, the independence movement was never able to break out the champagne after that historic evening.
Quebec sovereignty: a polarized debate
The documentary Take Twoavailable on the NFB website, reveals just how divided Quebec was over the possibility of becoming a sovereign French-speaking state. Perhaps out of misunderstanding, some citizens were skeptical about the project, while others saw separation as a threat, even radical nationalism. Sovereign Quebec would crumble. On the day of the vote, rumor had it that many had packed their bags, ready to move to another province.
Failure to be sufficiently inclusive may well have cost the independence movement victory. Racial rhetoric may have been a clumsy way to bring independence to fruition, while at the same time being one of the polarizing components of a project as vast as sovereignty itself.
On the other hand, a few citizens who were reluctant at the start of the project nevertheless tried to grasp the idea behind it and to debate it as citizens living in a free and democratic society. Through courting and propaganda, the federalists tried to woo Quebecers and neo-Quebecers by proposing a strong Quebec in a united Canada, whereas the pro-independence project advocated a strong Quebec establishing strong trade relations with Canada. Propaganda was played out on both sides.
The 1980 referendum
At the first attempt in 1980, the Lévesque government and the YES camp were defeated. Attempting to calm things down, the Prime Minister uttered a phrase that will remain engraved in the collective memory: "If I've understood you correctly, you're telling me: see you next time". It has to be said that, at the time, Quebec was searching for its identity, and this was also felt in the cinema and even in the music. Here's proof, Starmania presented a Quebec in search of itself: through his play "Les blues du business man".
In 1994, as a new leader Jacques Parizeau revived the dream of a free Quebec and a recognized nation, vicious federalist policies and tactics rekindled nationalist desire: the failure of the Meech Lake Accord and the rejection of the pan-Canadian Charlottetown project.
Following the 1995 referendum, the federalist parties certainly learned to please Quebecers. The most significant change was undoubtedly the recognition of the Quebec nation by the Harper government in 2006, under the motion on the Quebec nation. Even so, a Léger poll showed that Canadians were still very divided on the issue, with 47 % disagreeing and 48 % agreeing. By contrast, nearly 80 % of French-speaking Quebecers agreed. The question of Quebec as a distinct people seems to be a linguistic one.
A project that should have included aboriginals
The independence project had been accepted not only by the Bloc Québécois and Action Démocratique du Québec, but also by many Quebecers. But it seems that the First Nations were "forgotten" in the project. They were strongly opposed to the plan to divide up territories within their designated boundaries. And yet, Jacques Parizeau could have addressed the issue of the federal Indian Act, which might have rallied some Aboriginals to the project of a sovereign Quebec. As we learn from past mistakes, the new generation may well modify the independence project to give it a more modern vision.
The new generation
As the years have passed, new generations have established a strong bond with multicultural communities. Ideologies and values are evolving. A new, more contemporary independence movement could metamorphose into a single project where all are included, in the debate, without racial and discriminatory rhetoric. Let's stop using the word multicultural, a strategic term in federalist language. Instead, let's opt for an inclusive project, with modern values that disregard racial inequalities, include all nations, without polarizing the population so that, united, we'll be stronger in achieving our goals than in adversity.
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