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Canadians converge on Montreal to urge “Non” vote in 1995 referendum

The Story

By train, bus, car and plane, they came to Montreal: thousands upon thousands of Canadians determined to show how much they want Quebec to reject sovereignty. As referendum day looms, the federalist No side is running behind in the polls. But their cause gets a lift from unity boosters who jam the city's streets waving both the Maple Leaf and the Fleur-de-lis. In this clip, three CBC reporters describe the rally and the reaction. The rally includes speeches from Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and other No campaign leaders, a heartfelt round of O Canada in French and lots of chanting "No!" While some Montrealers say they're flattered by the attention, others are disgusted or say it won't change their vote. The Yes campaign is least impressed of all. Bloc Québécois leader Lucien Bouchard calls the rally a desperate effort that violates Quebec electoral laws. And, he says, it might even backfire. 

Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: Oct. 27, 1995
Guest(s): Lucien Bouchard, Jean Chrétien
Host: Peter Mansbridge
Reporter: Paul Adams, Mark Kelley, Tom Kennedy
Duration: 8:22

Did You know?

• The response from the Yes side to the rally was swift and angry. It lodged a formal complaint to Quebec's Chief Electoral Officer against the Liberal Party of Canada for contributing to the rally, arguing that Quebec's electoral laws prevented anyone but eligible voters from donating funds.

• The sovereigntists estimated the cost of the rally at $4.3 million, saying the amount should count towards the $5 million spending limit for each side.

• The electoral officer pursued the complaint and charged 20 people and companies with violating Quebec's election laws. The charges were dropped in October 1997 after a Supreme Court ruling that struck down a part of Quebec's referendum laws.

• By mid-October 1995, numerous polls showed a shift in momentum: the Yes and No sides were in a virtual dead heat, with the Yes side holding a slight lead. Lucien Bouchard had even begun to speculate publicly about the "historic cabinet meeting in Ottawa" that would take place the day after a Yes vote.

• Wanting to give federalist voters a focal point, the Quebec Business Council began planning a rally in Montreal on Monday, Oct. 23, 1995.

• Later that evening, federal fisheries minister Brian Tobin called on Canadians outside Quebec to show their support for a No vote.

• On Wednesday that week, the Globe and Mail printed a "rumour" that a rally would take place in two days.

• Official news of the unity rally broke that day, and thousands made plans to head to Montreal for what organizers dubbed "The Crusade for Canada."

• The country's two airlines offered Canadians deep discounts on tickets to Montreal for the weekend, as did Via Rail. Over 100 buses each from Ottawa and Toronto also made the trip. People also came from the Maritime provinces and flew from as far west as British Columbia.

• In the Montreal region itself, commuter trains and highways were jammed as people made their way to Place du Canada in downtown Montreal for a rally starting at noon.

• The size of the crowd ranged from 35,000 (the Yes estimate) to 150,000 (the No estimate). A book published four years after the rally put the number at 100,000.

• Four provincial premiers attended the rally: Mike Harris (Ontario), Frank McKenna (New Brunswick), John Savage (Nova Scotia) and Catherine Callbeck (PEI). None made a speech to the crowd.

• "These people, where were they in 1982 [when Quebec was left out of Canada's repatriated Constitution]?" asked Lucien Bouchard. "Will they come next Tuesday after a No?"

• Many Yes voters in Montreal agreed with Bouchard. "So 48 or 72 hours before the referendum they come here and say they love us. Why? It's insulting," said Montrealer Claude Allard on the day of the rally.


Separation Anxiety: The 1995 Quebec Referendum more