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Quebec wants 'a new deal'

Do you want "a new agreement with the rest of Canada, based on the equality of nations"? That was the heart of the question placed before the people of Quebec in the May 20, 1980 referendum. René Lévesque's Parti Québécois was asking Quebecers for a mandate to negotiate "sovereignty-association", an idea that inflamed federalists and separatists alike. CBC Archives looks back at the vote that divided a province and changed a nation.

A landmark Quebec white paper has federalists seeing red. "Quebec-Canada: A New Deal" is the Parti Québécois' roadmap for sovereignty-association, including an impending referendum vote. A key message of the plan is that a Yes vote would not mean a unilateral declaration of independence, but would begin the negotiation of a new relationship with Canada. Reaction is swift: Quebec Liberal leader Claude Ryan says the paper demands a blank cheque for separatism; Pierre Trudeau calls it "flawed", and has a few other words unfit for broadcast. 
. On Nov. 1, 1979, the Parti Québécois tabled its white paper called, in French, Québec-Canada: une nouvelle entente, and in English, Quebec-Canada: A New Deal. The Quebec government proposal for a new partnership between equals: sovereignty-association.
. The release of the white paper was disrupted by a labour demonstration by 2,500 civil servants, who seized the opportunity to hold a very visible walkout. They delayed the distribution of the document to journalists, and forced the cancellation of a closed-door press briefing.

"There are crucial moments in the history of peoples as there are in the lives of individuals," the white paper began. "Nothing is more natural. To live is indeed to choose, and there is no progress without movement, effort, change. To progress one must move ahead and successfully meet the challenges of time. Such crucial moments are rare."

"Here we all are, men and women of Quebec of whatever origin, at a crucial moment, a crossroads. After years of debate, constitutional 'crises', inquiries and reports, the time has come to choose, freely and democratically, the path for our future.

A historic rendezvous, next spring, will give us that opportunity."

. According to Graham Fraser's PQ: René Lévesque & the Parti Québécois in Power (1984), the bulk of the 118-page white paper was an oft-revised mishmash of text contributed by many PQ advisers. "The result was an awkward document, with the terse, didactic tone of a high-school civics text," Fraser says. He says the central part of the document was "a list of the Alice-in-Wonderland world of joint institutions that would be proposed."

. The white paper envisioned a politically sovereign Quebec that would have its own citizenship, passports, NATO, Norad and UN membership (and even the possibility of remaining in the Commonwealth). Yet it would also retain a common currency and free trade with Canada.


. On Jan. 10, 1980, Claude Ryan's Quebec Liberals countered this document by releasing what they called a "beige paper" outlining their own proposals for a renewed federation, including decentralized power and a federal charter of rights.

. You can read the full text of Quebec-Canada: A New Deal here: http://www.uni.ca/newdeal1979.html

. A white paper is an authoritative report on a major issue. It is prepared by a team of experts and usually issued by a government. A white paper is the informal name used in Commonwealth countries for a parliamentary paper (the United Kingdom calls them command papers.) They were traditionally bound in white.
. In Canada, white papers outline a government's plans to introduce specific legislation. A green paper, issued less frequently, simply outlines an issue and invites people to comment on proposed solutions.

Here is an explanation of some common terms as they are used in the context of the 1980 Quebec referendum:
. Federalist: Supporter of Quebec remaining within Canada, either under the current system or with greater autonomy and recognition.
. Sovereigntist: Someone who supports an independent Quebec, possibly with an economic union with Canada.

. Nationalist: A person seeking national independence for Quebec and the preservation of its distinct identity, without necessarily maintaining ties to Canada. Also "separatist" and "independentist" (indépendentiste). The opposing leaders of the referendum fight come from similar backgrounds.
Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: Nov. 1, 1979
Guest(s): René Lévesque, Claude Ryan
Host: Knowlton Nash
Reporter: David Bazay
Duration: 3:14

Last updated: April 10, 2013

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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