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1995 Quebec Referendum voting day

The Story

After years of planning, months of campaigning and one long day of voting, the results of the 1995 referendum are beginning to flow in. With the fate of Quebec hanging in the balance, Canadians everywhere watch anxiously as the Yes and No sides compete for the lead in what turns out to be an unbearably close race. With more than two-thirds of the votes accounted for, this clip from CBC Television's live coverage looks at the anxiety produced by the neck-and-neck race. This clip is from the third hour of CBC's live coverage of the referendum results. While the Yes side had surged ahead early, the lead ricocheted back and forth between both sides for most of the night. This footage shows the No side gaining significant ground for the first time. 

Medium: Television
Program: News Special
Broadcast Date: Oct. 30, 1995
Guest(s): Roy Romanow
Host: Peter Mansbridge
Reporter: Tom Kennedy, Jason Moscovitz
Duration: 14:12

Did You know?

• As the polls opened on Oct. 30, most public opinion surveys had predicted either a 50-50 outcome or a very close Yes victory in the referendum. This was borne out as the results began to flow in from across the province.
• The lead see-sawed between the two sides for most of the night, leading to frayed nerves on both sides; at one point late in the evening, the difference was a mere 28 votes.

• Yes supporter Andre Fortin described the suspense of the evening to the Montreal Gazette as "Alfred Hitchcock turned up to 10... It's crazy."
• Interest in the 1995 sovereignty vote proved to be much higher than anyone suspected. A total of 4,757,509 Quebecers filled out a ballot on decision day, marking a 93.5 per cent turnout at the polls. Just over 3.7 million – or 85.6 per cent – had voted in 1980's referendum.
• Long lineups plagued many of the 125 polling stations across the province with some voters forced to wait more than three hours to place their vote.

• The No side jumped to an early lead as the results started to roll in after 8 p.m. But as this clip shows, the lead would ping-pong between the two sides with no winner apparent for hours.
• The CBC was only able to project a No win around 10:30 p.m. after more than 96 per cent of the polls had reported.
• Reflecting on the night, Eddie Goldenberg, then Jean Chrétien's senior policy advisor, said the tension was felt even inside the prime minister's official residence in Ottawa.

• In October 2005, he described the mood of the evening to the Globe and Mail. That night "the prime minister watched intently, said little, but understood the responsibility that would lie on his shoulders during the days ahead. Some of us who were less calm in big storms left the rooms at times and moved around the house in search of television sets in rooms where we could be alone."
• The then-premier of Saskatchewan, Roy Romanow, who is interviewed by Peter Mansbridge in this clip, remembers being disturbed by the incoming results.

• "The minutes crawled by slowly," he told the Globe. "The long evening was interspersed with results that exacerbated concern, only to be followed by another result, which fanned the flames of hope. The hard part was to keep the torture within from being picked up by the camera."
• In the end, 50.58 per cent of Quebecers voted against the sovereignty question, or a total of 2,362,648 votes. The Yes side garnered 49.42 per cent, or a total of 2,308,360 votes.

• Just 1.16 per cent of the total vote - or 54,288 votes - separated the two sides. That's less than the capacity crowd for a CFL game at Montreal's Olympic Stadium.
• Following the official result, a scuffle broke out between hundreds of supporters of both sides in downtown Montreal. According to the Canadian Press, the two sets of supporters shouted, pushed and shoved each other outside a club at St-Laurent Boulevard and Ste-Catherine Street, the traditional divide between English and French Montreal.

• While the vote came down on the federalist side, a breakdown showed that six of 10 francophones had voted in favour of sovereignty – a fact that would be highlighted in Jacques Parizeau's infamous concession speech.
• As expected, the No side fared best in non-francophone regions - like Montreal's west island – as well as the Outaouais region near Ottawa. Unexpectedly, the east end of Montreal – a traditionally working-class francophone stronghold – was also won by the No side.


Separation Anxiety: The 1995 Quebec Referendum more