While the sovereignty referendum campaign was gearing up in Quebec in 1995, a team of Saskatchewan officials headed by Premier Roy Romanow considered the possibility that the Prairie province might leave Canada in the event of a Yes win.
The tantalizing footnote to Saskatchewan history is contained in a new book by Toronto Star columnist (and CBC At Issue panelist) Chantal Hébert that's being released Sept. 2. CBC and other media have received advance copies of the book.
In The Morning After: The Quebec Referendum and the Day that Almost Was, it's revealed that Romanow set up a special committee to assess options for Saskatchewan if Quebec were to separate.
The committee's work was filed under the "boring" title of Constitutional Contingencies — "a choice," the authors write, "intended to discourage curiosity — and was funded "off the books, outside the provincial Treasury Board process, to ensure its secrecy."
It stayed secret until this week, when Maclean's magazine published a review of the book.
Ultimately, the No side won a narrow victory in the referendum.
Romanow said he instructed the secret task force in fall 1994 to explore every scenario, including an option for Saskatchewan to separate from the rest of Canada.
Also on the table was the possibility that the province would form an alliance with Alberta and British Columbia to leave the country.
A third possibility looked at whether Saskatchewan might be annexed to the United States. The committee also examined the possibility of Saskatchewan adopting the U.S. dollar.
"In the eventuality of a Yes vote, clearly you need to examine all your options," Romanow says in the book.
Details about the Saskatchewan committee were revealed to Hébert by Romanow about 18 months ago. Before the interview with Hébert, he had never spoken publicly about the committee’s work.
None of the federal parties had plan for Yes win
The book contains a number of other surprises on the period surrounding the 1995 referendum.
Hébert's book focuses primarily on the impact that a Yes victory could have had. It also concludes that no party in Canada of any political stripe had a coherent plan to manage the possible independence of Quebec.
Hébert, with the assistance of former Liberal and Bloc Québécois MP Jean Lapierre, interviewed close to 20 key figures from the referendum period, including ex-Quebec premier Jacques Parizeau, former prime minister Jean Chrétien and Preston Manning, who led the now defunct Reform Party.
The authors also spoke to NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau about their impressions of the referendum.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper declined to be interviewed for the book.