IT was 25 years ago today that the people of Quebec went to the polls to cast their votes in the province’s second independence referendum.

On October 30, 1995, across the Francophone province voters were asked: “Acceptez-vous que le Québec devienne souverain, après avoir offert formellement auNo votes number 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?”

Or in English: “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 question had to be answered Oui or Non, Yes or No.

The vote was incredibly close. On an astonishing turnout of 93.52%, even bigger than for Scotland’s referendum in 2014, the votes for Yes were 2,308,360 (49.42%) of those who voted, with No votes numbering 2,362,648 or (50.58%). Even allowing for spoiled votes – that became a big issue in the following days – the difference was only around 53,000 votes out of more than 4,700,000 votes cast.


AS the only French-speaking province with a long history of seeking its own destiny, Quebec was unique among Canada’s provinces which have largely devolved governments within a federal state.

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The growing nationalist movement within Quebec developed through the latter half of the 20th century with Parti Quebecois at the forefront. When the party won power in the Quebec legislature in 1976 they instigated the first referendum on whether Quebec should become an independent state.

That referendum was fought along the lines of Quebec having “sovereignty association” with the rest of Canada, while the cause

of federalism was taken up by the No side which won with almost 60% of the vote.

Yet the fact that almost 40% of voters were for independence meant the issue would not go away – just as in 2014 and beyond in Scotland.

Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau tried to reform the constitution to allay some of Quebec’s concerns but his bid and later attempts to recognise the province’s distinct identity at federal level all failed. The demand for independence grew in the face of opposition from the rest of Canada.

The Parti Quebecois gained in strength while the Bloc Quebecois became the official opposition in the Federal Parliament in 1993. The party won a majority in the 1994 provincial elections after they had fought on the platform of another referendum and Premier Jacques Parizeau wasted no time in bringing forward the arrangements or Quebec’s indyref2.


AT the start of the campaign, the Yes side had about 40% in the polls, but this started to slowly rise and got a boost when Parizeau agreed to step aside and let Lucian Bouchard of the Bloc Quebecois lead the campaign. It was he who had persuaded Parizeau to include an “association” with the rest of Canada in his plans, and though he made mistakes, Bouchard – a former minister in the government of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney – proved much more popular than Parizeau.

Towards the end of the campaign there were extraordinary interventions, first by President Bill Clinton who effectively said the US would prefer a united Canada, then a tour-de-force by Canadian prime minister Jean Chretien who went on television to address the entire nation, saying: “Anyone who really wants to remain a Canadian should think twice before taking such a dangerous risk. Listen to the leaders of the separatist side. They are very clear. The country they want is not a better Canada, it is a separate Quebec. Don’t be fooled.

“A Yes vote means the destruction of the political and economic union we already enjoy. Nothing more.”

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And you wonder where Gordon Brown got his lines in 2014...

Bouchard countered with a superb inspirational televised speech in French that very nearly won the day.

But it wasn’t to be and Parizeau stood down the day after the result was announced, Bouchard replacing him as premier.

The Yes movement in Scotland should do more study of Quebec – not least because Canada’s supreme court decreed in 1998 that unilateral secession was illegal, would require a constitutional amendment and that only a clear majority on a clear question could bring about any sort of obligation on the federal and provincial governments to negotiate secession.