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Bookends: When Canada almost fell apart October 12, 2015

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends.
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Bookends: When Canada almost fell apart

By Dan Davidson

February 18, 2015

– 834 words –

 

The Morning After: The 1995 Quebec Referendum and the Day tThe Morning Afterhat Almost Was

By Chantal Hébert

With Jean LaPierre

Knopf Canada

320 pages

Kindle edition$14.95

With the recent Quebec provincial election having shown that the citizens of that province have so thoroughly rejected the call of the Parti Québécois, at least for now, this is perhaps a good time to look back at a time when the separatist option was riding high and almost managed to win the day.

The results of the October 30, 1995 referendum could have given our nation the worst Hallowe’en ever if the vote had tipped just a little bit. As it was, 50.58% of the citizens voted against the vaguely worded question put to them, and 49.42% voted in favour of that same question.

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?

That might mean immediate separation, or the beginning of negotiations to lead to that result. It turns out that even the three men leading the charge had quite different intentions when it came to what the morning after a successful campaign would look like.

Chantal Hébert, with the assistance of Jean LaPierre has delved into this topic by interviewing 17 key players from that period. From the Yes Camp there are Lucien Bouchard, the evangelist for the movement, Mario Dumont, the somewhat reluctant player, and Jacques Parizeau, the chess master behind the event.

Parizeau could not sell the idea himself, so Bouchard was brought on board as a front man, and his presence nearly clinched the deal. It turns out, however, that he had a softer option in mind than the Quebec Premier and that both he and Dumont would have been in for a shock had the Yes Camp have won.

In Quebec, the No Camp was led by Lucienne Robillard, Jean Charest and Daniel Johnson. They put up a not terribly effective opposition.

The Feds, who were not necessarily united in their approach, included Sheila Copps, Brian Tobin, Paul Martin, Raymond Chrétien, André Ouellet and Preston Manning. Some changed opinions during the debate, Manning would happily have negotiated Quebec’s departure.

Not all the premiers were involved. Roy Romanow seems to have been the one man in the debate with the sense of urgency to develop contingency plans. Other players included Mike Harris, Frank McKenna and Bob Rae.

Prime Minister Jean Chrétien gets the last word and Hebert refers to him as the Conjurer.

What we learn is that there was no consensus on the Yes side as to what victory might mean for them. Parizeau would have taken it to mean “independence now” while the other two would have settled for a restructured federal state.

Those who were fighting for the No vote were almost too late to the game. At first they didn’t know what to make of the referendum, but seemed to be sure they would win it easily. Then, as Bouchard’s presence lit a fire under the campaign for the Yes side, they panicked, and really did not seem to have a coherent plan of action.

On both sides, no one was talking to anyone else, and if Parizeau was playing his cards close to his chest, Chrétien’s were just as well concealed. He made some last minute concessions that may have helped the cause; but the Sponsorship Scandal connected to the ongoing debate, that later brought down the government of his successor, Paul Martin, also unfolded mostly on his watch.

Hébert is familiar to CBC watchers as a regular member of the At Issue weekly panel on The National. In English she holds forth in the Toronto Star and in Quebec she appears in several publications.

Jean LaPierre has seen both sides of the issue. He was an MP in John Turner’s short-lived government, then joined Bouchard in founding the Bloc Québécois and ultimately came back to the Liberals under Paul Martin. Today he is a radio commentator on a couple of Quebec radio stations.

The book concludes with a series of short takes from each writer on how they met and interacted with all the people they interviewed for this book over the time they have known them.

To provide context, the book begins with a useful timeline of events between November 1976, when René Lévesque first led the Parti Québécois to power, up to the 2014 election which saw the minority government of Pauline Marois go down to defeat.

This is an excellent book and very good reading, but it does leave me a little worried. We would like to think that those who wish to lead us are a bit better organized than a bunch of kids on a playground playing let’s pretend, but it seems it’s not the case.

-30-

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