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1995 Quebec Referendum campaign

The Story

No barbecue, lawn-bowling tournament or corn roast is safe. In the lead-up to the referendum campaign, the sovereigntist Yes side is ignoring no opportunity to woo the voters of Quebec. Meanwhile, the No side is sitting back, confident that the federalist message speaks for itself. "I'm selling the best product on the market: Canada," boasts Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. CBC reporter Terence McKenna tracks the methods and messages of each side's campaign. So far, the sovereigntists are focusing on convincing undecided voters -- hésitants -- to vote Yes. The Yes side says its support is growing while the federalists play it safe. But the federalists, including Quebec Liberal leader Daniel Johnson, say the Yes team is obscuring the sovereigntists' true aim. Therefore, the No campaign's mission is to remind Quebecers what a Yes vote really means: Quebec's separation from Canada. 

Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: Sept. 7, 1995
Guest(s): Jean Chrétien, Bernard Landry, Jean-François Lise, John Parisella
Reporter: Terence McKenna
Duration: 14:59
This clip has been edited for copyright reasons.

Did You know?

• An opinion survey conducted from August 17-23, 1995, found that 44.4 per cent of respondents would vote Yes in a referendum on Quebec's future - if the question linked sovereignty to a new offer of economic and political ties to Canada.
• Voters for the No side stood at 45.3 per cent. Just over 10 per cent were undecided or declined to reveal their preference. Supporters for No were far less likely to say they might switch their vote.

• The survey was conducted for the Journal de Montréal and the Globe and Mail by the polling firm Léger & Léger.

• However, another poll taken earlier that month by SOM Inc. for the Montreal Gazette and Le Soleil revealed that support for the Yes side changed with the referendum question. When asked how they would vote if the question was about sovereignty alone - without mention of economic or political ties - 44 per cent of respondents would vote No, 30 per cent said Yes and 26 per cent were undecided.

• On Sept. 16, 1995, The Economist magazine reported: "A large minority of those who tell pollsters they expect to vote Yes believe Quebec will still be part of Canada, with a common citizenship and currency but with political clout equal to the other nine provinces combined."
• It was up to the federalists to clear up the misconception that Quebec would still be part of Canada. The federalists' campaign largely focused on demonstrating how things had improved in Quebec since 1980.

• The federal government assembled a team of Quebec cabinet ministers, such as Labour Minister Lucienne Robillard, to campaign for the No side. Due to Prime Minister Jean Chrétien's "shaky popularity" in the province, their plans called for him to spend a minimal amount of time in Quebec and make few speeches or promises on the subject.

• "Like a hockey team with a two-goal lead in the third period," said Maclean's magazine on Sept. 18, 1995, "[the federalists] are playing cautiously and defensively, concentrating on avoiding mistakes."

• According to The Struggle for Quebec by political scientist Robert A. Young, the Yes forces designed a campaign whose goal was to "increase support for secession by appealing to the undecided 'soft nationalists.'"
• The Yes side also stressed the limitations of federalism: it did not allow for Quebec to attain its own goals, it was a waste of resources through duplication of services, and it permitted Ottawa to meddle in Quebec's affairs.

• The Yes side reassured Quebecers that the Canadian dollar would remain their unit of currency. Though they made no promises about what form their economic or political ties to Canada would take, the Yes campaign was also careful to emphasize that sovereignty would pose no threat to trade or investment in Quebec.


Separation Anxiety: The 1995 Quebec Referendum more