Quebec referendum anniversary: Memories still raw 20 years later
Key players in 1995 referendum look back at Quebec history's most 'nail-biting, exhilarating' time
For Liz Crompton, it was a moment in time she couldn't miss.
Working in Yellowknife, thousands of kilometres from home, she felt she had no choice but to fly to Montreal to attend the massive federalist rally, days before the 1995 vote on Quebec sovereignty.
Crompton was one of the tens of thousands who packed into Place du Canada in downtown Montreal to make their presence count as a vote to save a unified Canada.
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"It really felt like everyone was very fond of Quebec and they wanted Quebec to stay," she said. "[There was] a sense of positivity and hope."
Twenty years later, the rally remains one of the most controversial events in the dying days of the referendum campaign.
For the former Quebec premier and life-long sovereigntist, it was another sign the federal government was not respecting spending limits during the emotional campaign.
"It was part of the wrongdoing, because it was done with my money, with my taxes," he told CBC News this week.
"That referendum was stolen because the federal government wasn't fair," Landry added.
He said the bitter disappointment was keenly felt the night of the vote, with the Yes side losing by a razor-thin margin: 50.6 per cent to 49.4 per cent.
But Landry also sees hope in the results of the last referendum. He said that hope endures 20 years later, even though the sovereigntist movement is reeling after a drop in popular support for the Bloc Québécois, and the Parti Québécois is once again confined to the opposition benches at the National Assembly.
"When I was in elementary school, we were French-Canadian. The word 'Canadian' was in it," Landry recalled. "Today, my children and my grandchildren are Québécois and Québécoises. We have found our name and the attachment to Canada is less important today than in 1995," he said.
That sentiment of hope is echoed by Jean-François Lisée, a current PQ member of the National Assembly who in 1995 was working closely with then Quebec premier Jacques Parizeau.
As the Yes side conceded defeat, Parizeau blamed the loss on "money and the ethnic vote."
Both Lisée and Landry acknowledged Parizeau's infamous comments were regrettable and hurt the movement at the time.
A federalist sigh of relief
On the No side, panic began to set in during the final week of the 1995 referendum campaign, as the Yes side continued to climb in the polls.
Eddie Goldenberg, senior adviser to then prime minister Jean Chrétien, calls it a "very stressful" time.
"We were tense and we were trying to figure out, 'What do you do now?'" he recalled. "We were comfortably ahead and this happened suddenly."
He credits Chrétien's televised address, pleading with Quebec not to break up the country, as a late turning point that helped counter Yes negotiator Lucien Bouchard's charm.
"At the end of the day, we won by not very much," Goldenberg said.
He also blames the other side for dubious tactics, such as writing a referendum question that was 43 words long.
"The question was a crooked question," Goldenberg said. "They didn't have the guts to ask a clear question."
Crompton wasn't able to vote on that question, but she feels she played her part.
"I'm very glad I did come back for [the rally]" she said. "It felt momentous, even more so when I was here on the ground with everybody."