A Family Divided
Home Radio Television CBC Learning
A Fragile Unity
A Family Divided
History Home
A Family Divided
Family members have opposing visions for Quebec on the eve of the sovereignty referendum
In spring 1980, French Canadian Laurent LeClerc imagined a utopian future for his infant son: He dreamed of three-month-old Benjamin growing up in a magnificent new country - called Quebec.
In 1980, some Quebecers trusted that Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau could bring about constitutional change for Quebec without the wrenching process of separation.
In 1980, some Quebecers trusted that Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau could bring about constitutional change for Quebec without the wrenching process of separation.

"We were hoping for something different, a different country, warmer, more fraternal, more open to the world. And to give that kind of country to your children, thats extraordinary."

The province was in the middle of an extraordinary referendum campaign. Quebecers were asked choose between their province and their country in a carefully constructed question that asked their permission to negotiate sovereignty from Canada.

The Parti Québécois would be asking for the mandate to negotiate an agreement with the rest of Canada that would give Quebec "the exclusive power to make its laws, levy its taxes and establish relations abroad - in other words, sovereignty - and at the same time to maintain with Canada an economic association including a common currency."

Within Quebec tensions and emotions ran high as families, friends and neighbours passionately debated "Oui" (supporting separation) or "Non" (opposing separation).

"I was going to be thirty years old, and since the age of fifteen I had always been indépendantiste, nationalist, sovereigntist," said Leclerc.

Leclercs parents were firmly against Quebec sovereignty. Liane and Jean LeClerc hoped their grandson would grow up in a united Canada. Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau influenced Liane's decision. She trusted that the French Canadian leader could bring about constitutional change for Quebecers without the wrenching process of separation.

With passionate conviction on both sides, the LeClerc family keenly followed the referendum campaign.

Premier René Lévesque and his Parti Québécois led a masterful pro-sovereignty campaign early on. In April 1980, six weeks before the referendum, the "Oui" side was ahead in the polls by three points.

But just a week before the vote, Trudeau addressed Quebecers with one of the most powerful speeches of his career.

"My name is a Quebec name. But my name is a Canadian name also ..."

On the night of the referendum, Laurent LeClerc and his wife Ginette watched eagerly as television coverage panned to the exuberant crowd at Montreal's Paul Sauvé Arena, the gathering spot for the "Oui" camp.

"It was the evening of the century, the evening of my life," Laurent remembered. "I said to Ginette, 'Lets go to the Paul Sauvé Arena, we must go to the Paul Sauvé Arena'".

By the time Laurent arrived at the Arena, his sovereignty side was behind. Soon, the "Non" side claimed victory. Quebecers had voted 60% against the sovereignty proposal with 40% supporting the plan.

"I felt I was falling apart," Laurent said. "I had a son who was five years old, another who was three months. The country I wanted to give them had slipped through my fingers and it was very painful."

Laurents mother, Liane, was meeting her husband at the local "Non" headquarters in Saint Bruno.

"I just heard that we won. So I expected the place to be euphoric."

Instead, Liane found her husband stricken. Hed just seen their son Laurent on television.

"Our son was crying because he lost, and we are happy because we won. We couldnt be totally happy. Our son was crying."

top of page


Last Topic:
"Oui" or "Non"

Current Topic:
A Family Divided

Next Topic:
"The Night of Long Knives"
"Oui" or "Non"
Canada's future teeters on the brink as Quebecers decide if they want to remain in Confederation
read more ...

"The Night of Long Knives"
Political intrigue highlights Canada's struggle to bring home its constitution
read more ...

history home | explore the episodes | biographies | teacher resources | bibliography | games and puzzles | sitemap | contact us
cbc home | tv episode summaries | merchandise | press releases | behind the scenes | audio/video

copyright � 2001 CBC