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Parizeau poses the question

The Story

On Sept. 7, 1995, almost a year to the day after being elected on a sovereigntist platform, Premier Jacques Parizeau finally asks the question Quebecers have been waiting for. Clocking in at 43 words (41 in French), the referendum question is denounced by federalists as confusing and long-winded, but Parizeau's government holds firm. This clip from CBC's The National surveys the public and political reaction to the question that will decide the future of Quebec. 

Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: Sept. 7, 1995
Guest(s): Jean Charest, Daniel Johnson, Preston Manning, Frank McKenna, Jacques Parizeau, Lucienne Robillard, Roy Romanow, Clyde Wells
Host: Peter Mansbridge
Reporter: Tom Kennedy, Jason Moscovitz
Duration: 6:30

Did You know?

• The question posed by the Quebec government in September 1995 was:
"Do you agree that Quebec should become sovereign after having made a formal offer to Canada for a new economic and political partnership within the scope of the bill respecting the future of Quebec and of the agreement signed on June 12, 1995?"
• It was introduced on the same day as Bill One, also known as the Sovereignty Bill, which established Oct. 30, 1995, as the date for the provincewide referendum.

• The bill, along with a "Declaration of Sovereignty", was first unveiled on Sept. 6 during a private gathering at the Grand Théâtre de Québec. The emotional declaration was penned by a team of Quebec intellectuals and writers, including Gilles Vigneault, Marie Laberge, sociologist Fernand Dumont, journalist Jean-François Lisée and lawyers Andrée Lajoie and Henri Brun.
• It read in part: "The time has come to reap the fields of history. The time has come at last to harvest what has been sown for us by four hundred years of men and women and courage, rooted in the soil and now returned to it."

• Federalist leaders argued that the rambling nature of the referendum question was an effort by the premier to confuse voters. Quebec Liberal leader Daniel Johnson said "The PQ government believes that they can trick Quebecers into voting Yes."
• The question made no reference to Quebec as an independent country, instead talking about a new negotiated partnership with Canada.
• Any negotiations would be carried out under the terms laid out in Bill One, which boasted some 27 different articles.

• The June 12 agreement mentioned at the end of the question referred to the coalition of Quebec's three separatist parties. Under that agreement, if the negotiations failed after a one-year period, Quebec's National Assembly would have the power to separate from the rest of Canada.
• Frank McKenna, the premier of New Brunswick, said a Yes vote under these conditions would leave rest of the country to "negotiate with a knife at our throat."

• Critics pointed out that the 1995 referendum was significantly different from the 1980 referendum put forward by René Lévesque. As envisioned by Lévesque, the referendum involved two possible votes: one for a mandate to negotiate a new deal with the federal government, and a second vote to ratify any deal that was reached.
• The 1980 referendum question read as follows: "The Government of Quebec has made public its proposal to negotiate a new agreement with the rest of Canada, based on the equality of nations; this agreement would enable Quebec to acquire the exclusive power to make its laws, administer 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; any change in political status resulting from these negotiations will be submitted to the people through a referendum; ON THESE TERMS, DO YOU AGREE TO GIVE THE GOVERNMENT OF QUEBEC THE MANDATE TO NEGOTIATE THE PROPOSED AGREEMENT BETWEEN QUEBEC AND CANADA?"

• Pierre Paradis, the Liberal house leader in Quebec's National Assembly, described the 1995 question as cloudy and dishonest during an interview on CBC Radio's As It Happens. He argued that voting Yes in the referendum would be like handing Jacques Parizeau a "blank cheque".
• Sovereigntist scholar Daniel Latouche, who helped pen the 1980 question, contended the new question was a vast improvement. 


Separation Anxiety: The 1995 Quebec Referendum more