High stakes in the 1995 Quebec referendum

On Oct. 1, 1995, the campaign for the future of Quebec officially kicks off.

Yes, No sides both felt confident they'd win the vote

As the 1995 Quebec referendum campaign kicks off, Daniel Johnson says the deficit of a sovereign Quebec would be a huge problem. 1:54

Quebecers head to the polls today to vote on their future, and change could well be in the cards.

Supporters of the Yes and No sides make their loyalties known with balcony signs on October 29, 1995. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

But in 1995, the results of a Quebec vote had stakes much higher than a possible change in governing party: it had the potential to end in the province's sovereignty from Canada.

On Oct. 1 that year, then-Premier Jacques Parizeau launched the referendum campaign by gathering some of his cabinet ministers to sign the campaign writ.

An 'exciting' future... 

It declared that a referendum on the independence of Quebec was to be held on Oct. 30, 1995. 

"Vote Yes and you can tell your grandchildren you took the right decision for Quebec," Jacques Parizeau said in his pitch for separation. (CBC Archives/The National)

"I think we'll make it," Parizeau told journalists after the document was signed. "I think we'll have a country very soon, and yes, it is exciting."

Parizeau, leader of the separatist Parti Québécois, had been elected a year earlier on a platform of Quebec sovereignty. 

The referendum had already been in the works for months and the 43-word question had been hammered out.   

"Vote Yes and you can tell your grandchildren you took the right decision for Quebec," said Parizeau that night in a televised address.

"Without Quebec, Canada will no longer exist," Daniel Johnson told voters as the referedum campaign began. (CBC Archives/The National)

... Or 'a gigantic joke'

His opponent and head of the No campaign was Daniel Johnson, the province's Liberal leader.

"We have to provide Quebecers with more information," he said on the first day of the campaign. "The more people know, the more people vote No."

He described Parizeau's vision as a "gigantic joke."

In his own televised address, Johnson urged Quebecers to reject what he called Parizeau's negative vision.

"We haven't been oppressed or exploited," he said. "We helped build this country, and without Quebec, Canada will no longer exist."

When the ballots were counted after a passionately fought campaign, the No side won with of 50.58 per cent of the vote.

"I think we'll have a country pretty soon," says Jacques Parizeau, leader of the Yes side in the 1995 Quebec referendum. 2:30