CBC Digital Archives

1980: 'Non' to sovereignty in Quebec referendum

In the 1960s, René Lévesque made the prospect of a separate Quebec a reality. A shrewd politician, he gathered enough support to start the first sovereignty party Canadians took seriously. The Parti Québécois thrived because of his hard work, charm and democratic approach. In an era when some preferred to use firebombs to get their point across, Lévesque wanted Quebecers to vote on separation. Although the Quebec premier lost his 13-year fight after the 1980 referendum, he is remembered for winning countless other victories for francophones.

media clip
With the election of his Parti Québécois in 1976, René Lévesque sets Quebec on the path toward a referendum on the question of independence for Canada's second largest province by population. Four years later, on Tuesday, May 20, 1980, the people of Quebec reply with a resounding No. Faced with the fact nearly 60 per cent of voters have rejected his political dream of a sovereign Quebec, a tearful Lévesque addresses an arena full of supporters with the promise, "'Til the next time."

• While relieved by the result, Canada's Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau, noted the 40.6 per cent of voters who sought an independent Quebec and said, "we have all lost a little in this referendum." Over the next four years, Trudeau's primary political objective became the repatriation of the Canadian constitution in an effort to appease Quebec.

• Over 85 per cent of eligible voters participated in the referendum. A total of 2,187,991 people voted No to Quebec independence, while 1,485,851 voted Yes.

• In response to the referendum loss, militant Quebec separatists adopted the slogan "Ça va barder" - "There's going to be trouble."

Also on May 20:
1851: The first Canadian postage stamps are issued.
1920: Montreal radio station XWA broadcasts the first regularly scheduled radio programming in North America.
1971: Francis Simard is sentenced to life in prison for the 1970 murder of Quebec Labour Minister Pierre Laporte.
1986: Sharon Wood and Dwayne Congdon, both of Canmore, Alberta, reach the top of Mount Everest. Wood is the first North American woman to reach the summit of the world's highest mountain.
2003: Canada's beef industry is plunged into crisis when it is revealed a cow slaughtered in January had mad cow disease. Levesque
Medium: Television
Program: CBC Television News Special
Broadcast Date: May 20, 1980
Guest(s): René Lévesque
Duration: 11:17

Last updated: November 3, 2014

Page consulted on November 3, 2014

All Clips from this Topic

Related Content

Separation Anxiety: The 1995 Quebec Referendu...

"À la prochaine fois!" (Until next time!) promised René Lévesque after the 1980 Quebec referen...

René Lévesque's Separatist Fight

In the 1960s, René Lévesque made the prospect of a separate Quebec a reality. A shrewd politic...

The 1980 Quebec Referendum: extra clips

Do you want "a new agreement with the rest of Canada, based on the equality of nations"? That ...

1976: Separatist René Lévesque elected Quebec...

A majority win for Parti Québécois stuns the nation in 1976.

1984: Gunman kills 3 at Quebec legislature

A Canadian soldier goes on a shooting spree at the Quebec National Assembly.