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Gearing up for another Quebec referendum fight

The Story

Two days after the Parti Québécois is elected, Premier Jacques Parizeau declares he will forge ahead with a promised referendum on Quebec sovereignty. The PQ has successfully ousted Daniel Johnson's Liberals, winning 77 out of 125 seats, but it failed to garner a decisive win. In fact, the PQ received 44.7 per cent of the popular vote against 44.4 per cent for the Liberals. Still, in his first address as the elected leader of Quebec, Parizeau remains cautious, yet committed to a referendum: "I don't want to oppose the system, I want to get out of it." 

Medium: Television
Program: Prime Time News
Broadcast Date: Sept. 14, 1994
Guests: Camille Laurin, Jacques Parizeau
Host: Peter Mansbridge
Reporter: Tom Kennedy
Duration: 2:32

Did You know?

• The 1995 Quebec referendum was the second in Quebec to ask the public whether the province should pursue a path toward sovereignty (an independent state). In the first referendum, which took place in May 1980, the No side defeated the sovereigntists with 59.6 per cent of the vote.

• The Sept. 12, 1994, election in Quebec saw an 81.6 per cent voter turnout with 1,751,442 voting for the PQ and 1,737,698 for the Liberals. The PQ won 77 seats, the Liberals 47. The new Action democratique du Quebec received 6.5 per cent of the vote, enough to elect party leader Mario Dumont to the party's only seat.

• Jacques Parizeau joined the Parti Québécois in 1969. When the PQ was first elected to office in the 1976 provincial election, Premier René Lévesque appointed Parizeau as the minister of finance. The Montreal native holds a doctorate from the London School of Economics.

• An outspoken supporter of sovereignty, Parizeau played an important role in the 1980 Quebec referendum campaign.

• A federalist, or supporter of the No side, is someone who supports the concept of Quebec remaining within Canada. A sovereigntist, or supporter of the Yes side, is someone who supports the idea of Quebec independence.

• Parizeau temporarily left politics in 1984 after a falling-out with Lévesque. He felt Lévesque was moving away from pursuing Quebec sovereignty. Parizeau eventually returned to politics and was elected PQ leader in March 1988.

• Parizeau and his PQ lost the 1989 election to Robert Bourassa and his Liberals. 

• In July 1995, the outspoken PQ leader found himself in hot water over comments he made in confidence to a group of European diplomats. Parizeau reportedly said that if Quebecers voted Yes in the referendum, separation would be as final as "lobsters in boiling water" - essentially saying it would be a point of no return. Many saw the statement as demeaning to Quebec voters.

• The Premier's Office denied the statement but the media, particularly editorial cartoonists, had a field day. Cartoonist Jean-Pierre Girerd of La Presse, where the story broke, drew a nude Parizeau poised nervously over a tub of water, shouting "Honey! It's boiling!"

• Aislin of the Montreal Gazette took his inspiration from the movie Jaws, drawing a giant lobster lurking beneath the water, waiting to trap Parizeau.

• Le Devoir's Serge Chapleau showed a frustrated Parizeau, who was vacationing in the south of France, banging his head on a restaurant table as a waiter served him lobster.

• It was the second time Parizeau was mired in pre-referendum controversy. During the earlier 1980 referendum campaign, the Globe and Mail reported that as finance minister, Parizeau flippantly remarked that sovereignty would cost the average voter "equivalent of a case of beer a month." (The beer statement has also been attributed to Daniel Paillé, Industry and Trade minister.)


Separation Anxiety: The 1995 Quebec Referendum more