N. The 1995 Quebec Referendum and its Aftermath

Author:Patrick J. Monahan - Byron Shaw

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In September 1994, the Parti Québécois, led by Jacques Parizeau, defeated the Liberal government of Daniel Johnson, who had succeeded Robert Bourassa when he retired in early 1994. Parizeau had pledged to hold a referendum on sovereignty within a year of being elected. In December 1994, he tabled draft legislation which, if enacted, purported to grant the Quebec National Assembly the power to unilaterally declare Quebec to be a sovereign country. The draft legislation also dealt with a wide variety of contentious matters that would arise on Quebec’s accession to sovereignty, including Quebec’s territory, currency, borders, treaties, and citizenship.90Polls published in early 1995 indicated that, if a referendum were held on the Quebec government’s draft sovereignty legislation, the government’s proposals would be defeated by a sixty-to-forty margin. This opposition forced Parizeau to shift his strategy. In June 1995, he signed an agreement with Lucien Bouchard, leader of the Bloc Québécois, and Mario Dumont, the leader of a small Quebec nationalist party, in which he pledged that Quebec would make a formal offer of an economic and political partnership with Canada before declaring sovereignty. Then, in early October 1995, Parizeau appointed Bouchard as Quebec’s chief negotiator in the proposed talks aimed at achieving a new partnership with Canada. The announcement of Bouchard’s appointment triggered

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a surge in support for the "Yes" side in the final weeks of the campaign. In the final week of the referendum campaign, with the increase in popular support for the "Yes" side, Chrétien had made two solemn pledges to Quebec residents in an effort to shore up federalist support in the province. The first pledge was an endorsement of the constitutional recognition of Quebec as a distinct society. The second was that he would ensure that no future constitutional amendments affecting Quebec’s powers would be enacted without Quebec’s consent. The result of the referendum on 30 October 1995, was a narrow victory for the "No" side, by a margin of 50.6 to 49.4 percent.

In the days immediately following the referendum, some key provincial premiers indicated that they were unwilling to embark on another round of formal constitutional negotiations. Accordingly, the federal government attempted to honour the prime minister’s two referendum campaign pledges without having to resort to the amending formula in Part V. The Regional Veto...

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