Quebec referendum, 1980
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|1980 Quebec referendum|
|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, levy 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 only be implemented with popular approval through another referendum; on these terms, do you give the Government of Quebec the mandate to negotiate the proposed agreement between Quebec and Canada?|
The 1980 Quebec referendum was the first referendum in Quebec on the place of Quebec within Canada and whether Quebec should pursue a path toward sovereignty. The referendum was called by Quebec's Parti Québécois (PQ) government, which strongly favoured secession from Canada. See also 1995 Quebec referendum.
The province-wide referendum took place on Tuesday, May 20, 1980, and the proposal to pursue secession was defeated by a 59.56 percent to 40.44 percent margin.
Quebec, a province in Canada since its foundation in 1867, has always been the sole majority French speaking province. Long ruled by forces (such as the Union Nationale) that focused on affirmation of the province's French and Catholic identity within Canada, the Quiet Revolution of the early 1960s prompted a surge in civic and economic nationalism, as well as voices calling for the separation of the province and the establishment of a nation state.
Among these was René Lévesque, who would eventually found the Parti Québécois (PQ) with like-minded groups seeking independence from Canada. The PQ proposed "Sovereignty-association," a proposal for Quebec to be a sovereign nation-state while requiring (hence the hyphen) an economic partnership with what remained of Canada. Initially, the PQ intended to declare independence upon forming government, citing the principle of parliamentary supremacy. This would eventually be changed in the party platform after internal lobbying by Claude Morin to a referendum strategy to better allow such a declaration to be internationally recognized.
The PQ won the 1976 election in a surprise rout of the governing Quebec Liberals of Robert Bourassa, on a general platform of good government and the promise of holding a referendum on sovereignty-association during their first term. In government, the PQ implemented a number of popular reforms to longstanding issues in the province, while emphasizing their nationalist credentials with laws such as Bill 101.
The PQ's efforts were in philosophical conflict with the Federal Liberal government of Pierre Elliot Trudeau, which was strongly federalist and urged Quebecers to seek empowerment at the Federal level through reforms that provided for bilingualism and protection for individual rights. Trudeau, a feared campaigner whose party dominated Quebec's Federal electoral map, was considered such a formidable opponent that Lévesque refused to implement a referendum while Trudeau remained in office.
In the May 22 1979 federal election, the Liberals were defeated in seat-count by the Progressive Conservatives led by Joe Clark, whose platform had included a more accommodating approach to constitutional negotiations with the provinces. Clark's policy was to not have the Federal government be involved in the referendum, leaving the task to the generally respected Claude Ryan, new leader of the Quebec Liberals.
On June 21, 1979, Lévesque announced the promised referendum would occur in the spring of 1980, and that the question would be announced before Christmas.
On November 1, 1979, the Quebec government made public its constitutional proposal in a white paper entitled Québec-Canada: A New Deal. The Québec Government Proposal for a New Partnership Between Equals: Sovereignty-Association.
A dramatic change occurred in Ottawa on December 11, 1979, when a series of confused phone calls led the nationalist Social Credit MPs to abstain from a budget vote, which along with a concerted Liberal and NDP push, led the Clark government to unexpectedly lose a vote of confidence on a budget bill, precipitating a federal election. Three days afterward, Trudeau announced his return as leader of the Liberals. Polls showed Clark losing handily.
The referendum question was a subject of much internal debate amongst the Parti Quebecois caucus. Pur et durs such as Finance Minister Jacques Parizeau preferred a simple question on the entirety of the proposal. Lévesque came to the view that, as sovereignty-association would by necessity require negotiations with Canada, the government of Quebec should be treated as a legal agent and require ratification of its final decision. He also felt the safety of a second referendum would convince swing voters to back the "Yes."
A significant debate arose as to whether a "question" under the Referendum Act could have more than one sentence: The ultimate compromise was to use semicolons.
The question announced on December 20, 1979 was:
"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, levy 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 only be implemented with popular approval through another referendum; on these terms, do you give the Government of Quebec the mandate to negotiate the proposed agreement between Quebec and Canada?"[note 1]
Lévesque, while noting its cumbersome nature, stated that it was transparent and could be easily understood.
The Liberals presented their constitutional proposal, known as the "Beige Paper" on January 10th, 1980, which advocated a decentralized Canadian federation. While generally viewed as detailed and competent, the report did not make much impact on the Federal election, and was attacked by the PQ as vague and insubstantial. Ryan, who disliked the Federal Liberals, refused to endorse either Trudeau or Clark.
On February 18, 1980, the Federal Liberals won a majority in the House of Commons, with Trudeau returning as Prime Minister. Trudeau announced Jean Chrétien, his most trusted lieutenant, as having responsibilities for the federal response to the referendum. Ryan was furious.
Television had recently been introduced to the National Assembly, and the legislative debate on the referendum question was scheduled for prime time live viewing on March 4, 1980. The debate lasted two weeks, and the result was a smashing PQ success and a disaster for the Liberals. The PQ Cabinet, coordinated by House Leader Claude Charron, provided detailed outlines of their files and the benefits they said sovereignty would provide them. The Liberals provided quick and taunting retorts regarding the referendum question that would normally be heard on the legislative floor, but which appeared to be flippant and insubstantial compared to the lengthy and detailed speeches of PQ members to television viewers. The Liberals seemed to lack preparation and Ryan, unaware of the television cameras, was caught yawning on a few occasions during Liberal interventions.
Polls released after the debates showed the Yes and No side even, with a majority amongst Francophone voters for the "Yes."
Brunch des Yvettes
Less helpful to the "Yes" campaign was a speech by former television presenter Lise Payette to a committee in Montreal, which mocked what she viewed as the "No" side's complacency by using the conception of Yvette, a docile schoolgirl from pre-Quiet Revolution books. Payette then stated that Ryan wanted a Quebec full of "Yvettes" and that his wife, Madeline Ryan, was a Yvette. The personal attack prompted a furious editorial by prominent journalist Lise Bissonnette, who sarcastically contrasted Payette's televised exploits with Mme. Ryan's accomplishments in the private and public sector. Payette apologized during the legislative debate, but the remark and editorial sparked a movement.
On March 30, a group of 1,700 women, including Madeline Ryan, held the brunch des Yvettes at the Château Frontenac in Quebec City. The movement grew until a rally at the Montreal Forum on April 7 when 14,000 women denounced the minister's declarations about women and manifested their support for the "No" side. This was the first major rally for the "No" side in the campaign.
During a major rally for the "No" side on May 14, six days before the vote, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau promised to reform the Canadian Constitution if the "No" side won, stating that Quebec's "historic demands" would be fulfilled. Many nationalists interpreted this as a promise to change the constitution to satisfy traditional Quebec demands for more provincial powers. He had asked all the Quebec people to vote no and warned the rest of Canada that a no vote did not mean that all was well and nothing would change.
|No: 2,187,991 (59.56%)||Yes: 1,485,851 (40.44%)|
|Total votes||% of votes|
After the crushing defeat, a visibly emotional Lévesque addressed his supporters, beginning with "My dear friends, if I understand you correctly, you're saying: “'until next time.'" While calling the Federal government's involvement in the campaign "scandalously immoral," he emphasized that the result must be accepted, and that it was now the Federal government's responsibility to provide the promised changes to the Constitution. He ended asking the audience to sing Gens du Pays for him, as he did not have any voice left.
Claude Ryan's speech was later in the evening. After physically refusing to let Jean Chrétien use the microphone to address those gathered, he proceeded to list every riding that had voted for the "No" campaign. Trudeau addressed the country afterward with a more conciliatory tone, emphasizing the need for action on the constitutional file to English Canada. The next morning, Chrétien was tasked with creating a provincial consensus.
Maximum amount authorized by referendum law: $2,122,257 ($0.50/voter x 4,244,514 voters)
- State subsidy ($0.25/voter): $1,061,128.50
- Amount received by political parties: $987,754.04
- Contributions by voters: $11,572.60
- Total fund: $2,060,455.11
- Total committed and discharged expenditure: $2,060,455.00
- State subsidy ($0.25/voter) : $1,061,128.50
- Amount received by political parties: $683,000.00
- Contributions by voters: $305,118.05
- Total fund: $2,049,246.55
- Total committed and discharged expenditure: $2,047,834.00
In his concession speech Lévesque said, "If I've understood you well, you're telling me 'until next time'."
Despite the referendum loss, the PQ government was re-elected in the 1981 provincial election. Meanwhile, the federal government of Pierre Trudeau renewed its efforts to patriate the Canadian Constitution and succeeded in doing so in 1982, outmanoeuvring Lévesque to gain the support of the premiers of other Canadian provinces in the so-called Kitchen Compromise.
It is unclear whether Trudeau's promise of "renewed federalism" was a deciding factor in the vote to stay. The constitutional changes that Trudeau undertook was a patriation of the Constitution from Britain, thereby eliminating the last control the British Parliament had over Canada, and the adoption of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Trudeau had always made it clear that this was the first change he would make to the Constitution, beginning with a speech as a young Minister of Justice at a first ministers conference on the constitution in 1969. However, his use of the words "renewed federalism" was ambiguous and some people expected that he would increase Quebec's powers and jurisdiction, even though he had been consistent since that first speech that he would only discuss division of powers after phase one, patriation with an amending formula and a charter, and phase two, institutional renewal including upper chamber reform, were completed. At the time, support for patriation and the charter was high across Canada, including among the Quebec francophone population.
During much of the 1980s, Quebec sovereignty was perceived as a dead issue. In 1984, Brian Mulroney led the Conservative to victory federally in Canada and had committed during the campaign to trying to find a way to accommodate Quebec's demands, claiming the Quebec had been left out of the 1982 constitutional amendments. Lévesque pledged to take the beau risque of trying to work towards a deal with Mulroney. This led to a split in the Parti Québécois and subsequently Lévesque's resignation from politics in 1985.
With the election of the Quebec Liberal government of Robert Bourassa, the Mulroney government began negotiations with Bourassa's to find a deal that would be acceptable to them and to all the other premiers in Canada. The 1987 Meech Lake Accord and the 1992 Charlottetown Accord. The Meech Lake Accord was opposed by aboriginal leaders, who were able to block its ratification in the Manitoba legislature due to the objection of Elijah Harper, and the Newfoundland legislature rescinded its ratification in response to Premier Clyde Wells' belief that it undid the progress achieved in the 1982 constitutional amendments and would undermine the Charter of Rights. The Charlottetown Accord was defeated in most provinces through a country-wide referendum, including in Quebec.
By opening the constitutional question and failing to achieve change, separatism rose in Quebec and Jacques Parizeau came to office as premier as head of the pro-independence Parti Québécois. This led to the second sovereignty referendum of 1995.
- In French :"«Le Gouvernement du Québec a fait connaître sa proposition d’en arriver, avec le reste du Canada, à une nouvelle entente fondée sur le principe de l’égalité des peuples ; cette entente permettrait au Québec d'acquérir le pouvoir exclusif de faire ses lois, de percevoir ses impôts et d’établir ses relations extérieures, ce qui est la souveraineté, et, en même temps, de maintenir avec le Canada une association économique comportant l’utilisation de la même monnaie ; aucun changement de statut politique résultant de ces négociations ne sera réalisé sans l’accord de la population lors d’un autre référendum ; en conséquence, accordez-vous au Gouvernement du Québec le mandat de négocier l’entente proposée entre le Québec et le Canada?»"
- Fitzmaurice, John (1985). Québec and Canada; Past, Present, and Future. C. Hurst & Co. Ltd. p. 47. ISBN 0-905838-94-7.
- Levesque, p. 299.
- Levesque, p. 300.
- Lévesque, Michel and Martin Pelletier (2005). Les référendums au Québec : bibliographie, Québec: Bibliothèque de l’Assemblée nationale du Québec, page 15 (online)
- Government of Québec (1979). Québec-Canada: A New Deal. The Québec Government Proposal for a New Partnership Between Equals: Sovereignty-Association, Québec: Éditeur officiel du Québec, 118 p. (online)
- DGEQ. "Référendum du 20 mai 1980", in the site of the Directeur général des élections du Québec, updated March 20, 2006
- Lévesque, Michel and Martin Pelletier (2005). Les référendums au Québec : bibliographie, Québec: Bibliothèque de l’Assemblée nationale du Québec (online)
- Lévesque, René (1986). Memoirs. Montreal: McClelland and Stewart. ISBN 0-7710-5285-5.
- "À la prochaine fois: The 1980 Quebec Referendum", in The CBC Digital Archives. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. [11 TV clips, 14 radio clips]