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Jacques Parizeau: how I became a separatist

"À la prochaine fois!" ("Until next time!") promised René Lévesque after the 1980 Quebec referendum. Fifteen years later, on Oct. 30, 1995, Quebec and the rest of Canada faced that "next time" as Quebecers decided whether to separate from Canada. Though they voted to stay by the narrowest of margins, the referendum provoked questions about Canadian identity and Quebec's place in Confederation. CBC Archives relives a period when this country very nearly split apart.

media clip
Jacques Parizeau, former Quebec premier and fiercely dedicated separatist, has had an eventful political career. He is perhaps best known for leading the 1995 Quebec referendum. This TV clip - aired the day Parizeau resigned as Quebec premier following the referendum - outlines the highs and lows of his career. In interview excerpts, Parizeau reveals the moment he decided to become a separatist, and cheerfully admits he will never have the charisma of René Lévesque.
• Jacques Parizeau was born on Aug. 9, 1930, in Montreal.
• He earned a PhD in economics from the London School of Economics in the 1950s.

• As a young economist, Parizeau became a very important adviser to the Quebec government during the 1960s, a time of great social change known as "The Quiet Revolution." According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, "His advice was influential in the nationalization of Hydro-Québec; he also played a key role in the establishment of the Quebec Pension Plan and the formation of the Common Front of public sector unions."

• Parizeau "was best known for the description of his conversion [to the separatist cause] during a cross-country train trip in 1967: 'When I left Montreal's Windsor Station, I was a federalist,' went his mantra. 'When I arrived in Banff, I was a separatist.' (To avoid other defections, the Brian Mulroney Conservatives killed the VIA train to Banff.)," joked writer Peter C. Newman in a 2003 Maclean's article.
• Parizeau gives a full description of this fateful train ride in this clip.

• Parizeau joined the Parti Québécois (PQ) in 1969.
• When the PQ won the 1976 provincial election under leader René Lévesque, Parizeau became the province's finance minister.

• He held the finance minister position until 1984, when he resigned because he disagreed with Lévesque. The PQ, under Lévesque's leadership, had decided to temporarily put aside the sovereignty agenda, and Parizeau thought this was unacceptable. "It was clear... that we disagreed on something that was essential to me," says Parizeau in this clip. Parizeau was considered a "hard-liner" in the separatist movement, and was extremely dedicated to Quebec independence.

• After PQ leader Pierre-Marc Johnson (Lévesque's successor) resigned in 1987, Parizeau returned to the party as its new leader in 1988. The Canadian Encyclopedia says, "his return to politics coincided with a rise in separatist sentiment in Quebec."
• In the 1994 Quebec election, Parizeau led the PQ to victory. One of his campaign promises was to hold a provincial referendum on Quebec separation within one year of the election.

• The referendum was on Oct. 30, 1995. Although Quebec voted to stay a part of Canada, it was an extremely close vote.

• When the referendum results were in, Parizeau gave a very emotional, controversial speech in which he blamed the results on "money" and the "ethnic vote." In this clip, this is what the reporter was referring to as his "spectacularly inappropriate concessions speech." Parizeau's comments were not only considered offensive by the general public, but were repudiated by members of his own party as well.

• The day after the referendum and the infamous speech, Parizeau resigned as premier. His successor was Lucien Bouchard.
• Although this was the end of Parizeau's official political career, he remained dedicated to the separatist cause and has continued to speak out in favour of Quebec sovereignty.
Medium: Television
Program: The National Magazine
Broadcast Date: Oct. 31, 1995
Guest: Jacques Parizeau
Reporter: Terence McKenna
Duration: 7:42
Song: "Gens du Pays" by Gilles Vigneault, SODRAC.

Last updated: October 10, 2013

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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