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1995 Quebec referendum

The 1995 Quebec referendum was the second referendum in Quebec (see 1980 Quebec referendum) which put to public vote the role of Quebec within Canada and whether Quebec should pursue a path toward independent statehood. The referendum was the culmination of years of rising discontent within the province (see Quiet Revolution) and was brought forward by Quebec's governing party, the Parti Quebecois (PQ), which strongly favoured secession.

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% to 49.42% margin.

Table of contents
1 The Question
2 The Players
3 The Campaign
4 The Results
5 Effects
6 External links

The Question

The question posed on the ballot was: "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, Yes or No?"

Many federalists attacked the quesion as being unclear. While some sovereigtists insisted it was not a vote on independence, but rather on a renegotiation of confederation, it is now clear that some such as Premier Parizeau hoped a yes vote would lead to rapid independence.

The Players


Campaigning for the "No" side were those in favour of a united Canada.

Key federalists:


Campaigning for the "Yes" side were those in favour of Quebec's separation from Canada.

Key sovereigntists:

The Campaign

The election began with polls showing about 60% of Quebecers would vote no. The early days of the campaign saw little change. The sovereigntist campaign lead by Parizeau made little headway. Jean Chretien 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.

Seeing the little progress made by the 'oui' side the far more popular Lucien Bouchard rose to a more prominent role than Parizeau. Under Bouchard the numbers began to change and new polls showed a majority of Qubecers intending to vote yes. Quebecers were also inflamed by isolate groups, especially in western Canada, who supported Quebec leaving the country. Bouchard stumbled, however, remarking that Quebecers were the "white race" with the lowest rate of reproduction, costing the sovereigntists many non-white voters.

Still days before the referendum it looked as though the sovereigntists would win. Chretien promised a new deal for Quebec within Canada if Quebecers voted to stay. A massive rally was held in downtown Montreal where Canadians from across the nation showed Quebec they wished them to stay. Jean Chretien 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% of registered voters vote with a slim majority, 50.58% to 49.42% voting "No".

Total votes% of votes
Valid ballots4,671,00898.18%
Rejected ballots86,5011.82%
Participation rate4,757,50993.52%
Registered voters5,087,009


In his concession speech Parizeau blamed the loss on "money and the ethnic vote", and stepped down as premier a day later.

After the election great controversy arose over whether Parti-Quebecois scrutineers had discarded 'non' ballots. The sovereigntists also attacked the federalists for gross violations of spending limits by making use of friendly corporations such as Air Canada and BCE. Later reviews substantiated both allegations, but there were no consequences to those who had taken part.

While reform of the confederation was promised by the federalists only limited changes were made such as giving regional vetoes. Rather after the referendum the Liberal government embarked on the so-called "Plan-B" of treating Quebec and sovereingty harshly. This culminated in the 1998 Clarity Act which insisted that any future referendum be on a clear question and that more than 50% of the vote was needed for Quebec to separate.

Over the course of the next few years support for sovereignty, and for any sort of constitutional change, declined markedly. While the PQ remained in power until 2003, when it lost the provincial election to Jean Charest's federalist Liberals, no third referendum was held.

External links