Quebec referendum, 1995

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1995 Quebec referendum
Acceptez-vous que le Québec devienne souverain, après avoir offert formellement au Canada un nouveau partenariat économique et politique, dans le cadre du projet de loi sur l'avenir du Québec et de l'entente signée le 12 juin 1995?
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?
Yes or no Votes Percentage
Yes check.svg Yes 2,302,648 49.3%
X mark.svg No 2,368,360 50.7%
Valid votes 4,671,008 98.18%
Invalid or blank votes 86,501 1.82%
Total votes 4,757,509 100.00%
Voter turnout 93.52%
Electorate 5,087,009
Map of the 1995 referendum by provincial riding. Red colours indicate No votes, blues indicate Yes votes, with darker hues indicating higher percentages.

The 1995 Quebec referendum was the second referendum to ask voters in the Canadian province of Quebec whether Quebec should proclaim national sovereignty and become an independent state, with the condition precedent of offering a political and economic agreement to Canada.

The culmination of multiple years of debate and planning after the failure of the Meech Lake Accord, the referendum was launched by the Parti Québécois government of Jacques Parizeau. An eventful and complex campaign followed, with the "Yes" side flourishing after being taken over by Bloc Québécois leader Lucien Bouchard.

The referendum took place in Quebec on October 30, 1995, with "No" winning by a slim 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 with like-minded groups seeking independence from Canada. After arriving in power in 1976, the PQ government held a referendum in 1980 seeking a mandate to negotiate "sovereignty association" with Canada that was decisively defeated.

From 1980 to 1982, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau declared that he would seek to "patriate" the Canadian Constitution and to bring about what would eventually become the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. After the Patriation Reference decision from the Supreme Court declared that provincial consent was not required, but desirable pursuant to a constitutional convention, eight provincial premiers, including Quebec Premier René Lévesque, publicly opposed the constitutional amendments. During tense negotiations in November 1981, an agreement was reached with nine of the ten premiers by Trudeau, but not Lévesque. The Constitution Act of 1982 was enacted without the Quebec National Assembly's approval nor Lévesque's.[1]

After the retirement of Trudeau and defeat of the Liberals in 1984, new Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and Quebec Liberal premier Robert Bourassa sought a series of Constitutional amendments designed to address Quebec's exclusion, known as the Meech Lake Accord. After initial enthusiasm, public opposition in English Canada eventually scuttled the Accord in 1990, prompting outrage in Quebec. While the Accord was collapsing, Lucien Bouchard, a cabinet minister in Mulroney's government, led a coalition of Liberal and Progressive Conservative members of parliament from Quebec to form a new federal party devoted to Quebec sovereignty, the Bloc Québécois.

Following these events, Bourassa proclaimed that a referendum would occur in 1992, with either sovereignty or a new Constitutional agreement as the subject. This prompted a national referendum on the Charlottetown Accord in 1992, which failed in Quebec and English Canada.

In the 1993 federal election, the Bloc Québécois won 54 seats, making it the second largest party in the House of Commons of Canada, and giving it the role of Official Opposition. In Quebec, the 1994 provincial election brought the sovereigntist Parti Québécois back to power, led by Jacques Parizeau. He promised voters to hold a referendum on sovereignty during his term in office as premier.[2]

Referendum question[edit]

Despite agreeing on a referendum, members of the Bloc and PQ differed substantially on what question should be asked of the electorate. The question in the first referendum on Quebec's sovereignty had sought the authority to negotiate "sovereignty-association" with the Canadian government. Parizeau had always been a critic of this strategy, as he thought it left the campaign at the mercy of outside forces. He preferred to simply ask the electorate to declare Quebec sovereign, without any binding of future negotiations.

However, Parizeau, despite being Premier of the province, faced competition: Bloc Québécois leader Lucien Bouchard. A popular and charismatic figure, Bouchard had come close to death from necrotizing fasciitis and lost his left leg. His recovery, and subsequent public appearances on crutches, provided a rallying point for sovereigntists.[3][4] Bouchard thought such a question would doom the project among soft nationalists (such as himself) who worried about the economic consequences of separation.

After a series of conferences, Parizeau agreed to partner with Bouchard and Mario Dumont, leader of the Action démocratique du Québec, on bringing a joint bill before the National Assembly of Quebec. The three released a general plan of seeking "sovereignty," and requiring an economic and social partnership offer to the rest of Canada, but not binding the government to a subsequent referendum on the subject.

On September 7, 1995, a year after being elected premier, Jacques Parizeau presented the exact referendum question, to be voted on October 30 of that year.

In French, the question on the ballot asked:

"Acceptez-vous que le Québec devienne souverain, après avoir offert formellement au Canada un nouveau partenariat économique et politique, dans le cadre du projet de loi sur l'avenir du Québec et de l'entente signée le 12 juin 1995?"

In English, the question on the ballot asked:

"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?"

A poll released just weeks before the October 30 vote showed more than 28% of undecided voters believed a "Yes" vote would simply mean Quebec would negotiate a better deal within confederation, meaning that they would continue to use Canadian passports and elect members of parliament in the House of Commons of Canada.[5] Some federalists argued that the referendum question was unclear by mentioning such "partnership" proposals, because no Canadian political leaders outside Quebec had shown interest in a partnership agreement with an independent Quebec.[6] A major theme of the "No" committee during the referendum campaign was to try to convince voters that a majority "Yes" vote would in fact mean full independence for Quebec, with no certainty of a partnership agreement with Canada.


Pursuant to Quebec's Referendum Act (enacted by the National Assembly prior to the referendum of 1980), all campaign spending had to be authorized and accounted for under "Yes" or "No" umbrella committees. Both committees had an authorized budget of $5 million each. Campaign spending by any person or group other than the official committees would be illegal after the official beginning of the referendum campaign.


Campaigning for the "No" side were those in favour of Quebec remaining a part of Canada, and the country's federal structure, who are referred to as "federalists".

Key federalists included:


Campaigning for the "Yes" side were those in favour of Quebec's secession from Canada, and/or negotiating a limited economic and political partnership with the country, who are referred to as "sovereigntists".

Key sovereigntists included:


Initial stages[edit]

Early polls indicated that 67% of Quebecers would vote "No", and for the first few weeks, the sovereigntist campaign led by Parizeau made little headway.[citation needed]

The official "Non" campaign, chaired Liberal leader Daniel Johnson Jr., focused on the financial benefits provided to Quebec within Canada rather than any emotional attachment. Fearing missteps by Federal politicians not used to Quebec politics, Johnson heavily controlled appearances by Federal politicians and bluntly banned any appearance by the Reform Party.[7]

Appointment of Bouchard[edit]

Seeing that the "Yes" side was making little progress, and under pressure from others in the movement to create a spark, Parizeau delivered a surprise: In an unannounced ceremony on October 7, Parizeau appointed Bouchard as chief negotiator for the partnership talks following a "Yes" vote. New polls eventually showed a majority of Quebecers intending to vote "Yes".

The referendum provided challenges for both coalitions, which were made up of various disparate and rival groups. One cleavage was the traditional debate of whether Québécois nationalism was ethnic or civil nationalism, which erupted after Bouchard's remarks three weeks before the vote that Quebecers were the "white race" with the lowest rate of reproduction.[8]

On the No side, aside from tensions about strategy, there was a general disagreement about what the result of a possible "Yes" vote would be. The Federal government and Prime Minister Chrétien took no public position on the matter. A considerable amount of federal Liberal supporters considered the referendum "consultative" and not a binding decision of the Quebec electorate. Provincial Liberals and Progressive Conservative leader Jean Charest, while campaigning for the "No," stated that an affirmative "Yes" vote would have to be recognized and should prompt negotiations. Ontario Premier Mike Harris, along with opposition leaders Lyn McLeod and Bob Rae, held a joint press conference declaring that a sovereignty declaration would mean that Ontario's open border with Quebec could not be taken for granted in any future negotiations.

French President Jacques Chirac, while appearing on CNN's Larry King Live, declared that, if the Yes side were successful, the fact that the referendum had succeeded would be recognized by France.

A federalist rally of about 10,000 people was held at the Verdun Auditorium on Tuesday, October 24, in which Prime Minister Jean Chrétien promised certain quasi-constitutional reforms to give Quebec more power, and in a more startling announcement, declared that he would support enshrinement of Quebec as a distinct society within the Canadian constitution. The sudden reversal of Chrétien's long-standing position on the issue, along with Chrétien's wan complexion and untypically nervous appearance, sparked considerable comment.[citation needed]

Three addresses[edit]

Five days before the vote, United States President Bill Clinton, while declaring the referendum as an internal issue of Canada, gave a minute-long statement extolling the virtues of Canada, ending with "Canada has been a great model for the rest of the world, and has been a great partner of the United States, and I hope that can continue." While the statement provided relief in sovereignist circles for not being a strong endorsement, the implication of Quebec's most important trading partner endorsing Canadian unity had strong reverberations.

Prime Minister Jean Chrétien gave a televised address to the nation in English and French, extolling the virtues of Canadian federalism and announcing constitutional reforms. Lucien Bouchard gave a rebuttal, memorably showing a newspaper headline from the aftermath of the 1982 Constitution that featured Chrétien.

Several polls indicated that the "No" side had a slight lead over the "Yes" side, but well within the margin of error (between 0 and 2%).

Unity Rally[edit]

A massive rally was held on Friday, October 27 (three days before the vote), in downtown Montreal. Known as the "Unity Rally", it brought together an estimated 100,000 Canadians from outside Quebec to celebrate a united Canada, and plead with Quebecers to vote "No" in the referendum.[9] Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, Progressive Conservative Party leader Jean Charest and Quebec Liberal Party leader Daniel Johnson spoke to the crowd for the occasion.

Contingency preparation for a "Yes" victory[edit]


In the event of a "Yes" victory, Parizeau had said he intended to return to the National Assembly of Quebec within two days of the result and seek support for the Sovereignty Bill, which had already been tabled.[10] In a speech[11] he had prepared in the event of a "Yes" victory, he said a sovereign Quebec's first move would be to "extend a hand to its Canadian neighbour" in partnership pursuant to the wording of the referendum. Parizeau said that he would expect to negotiate with the federal government immediately after a "Yes" vote. That negotiation failing, he would declare an independent Quebec.[12]

On October 27, Bloc Québécois leader Lucien Bouchard's office sent a press release to all military bases in Quebec, calling for creation of a Quebec military and the beginning of a new defence staff in the event of Quebec's independence.[13] Bouchard declared that Quebec would take possession of Canadian air force jet fighters based in the province.[14]


Little planning was made for the possibility of a "Yes" vote by the Canadian federal government. Some members of the federal cabinet met to discuss several possible scenarios, including referring the issue of Quebec's independence to the Supreme Court. Senior civil servants met to consider the impact of a vote for secession on issues such as territorial boundaries, the federal debt, and whether Jean Chrétien, since he had been elected in a Quebec riding, would be able to assure the Governor General that he retained enough support within his party to remain the Prime Minister of Canada.[15]

When asked about the possibility of Canada negotiating an economic partnership with an independent Quebec, then-Reform Party Intergovernmental Affairs Critic and future Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper told reporters "There is zero support outside of Quebec for this kind of thinking", and "The sooner that Quebeckers know this, the better".[16] The Minister of National Defence David Collenette made preparations to increase security at some federal institutions. He also ordered the military's CF-18 aircraft out of Quebec, to prevent them from being used as pawns in any negotiations.[15]

First Nations[edit]

Traditional Cree and Inuit lands in Northern Quebec

In preparation for a "Yes" victory, aboriginal peoples in Quebec strongly affirmed their own right to self-determination. First Nations chiefs said that forcing their peoples to join an independent Quebec would violate international law. In the final week of the referendum campaign, they demanded to be full participants in any new constitutional negotiations resulting from the referendum.[17]

The Grand Council of the Crees in Northern Quebec was particularly vocal in its resistance to the idea of being included in an independent Quebec. Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come issued a legal paper, titled Sovereign Injustice,[18] which sought to affirm the Cree right to self-determination in keeping their territories in Canada. On October 24, 1995, the Cree organized their own referendum, asking the question: "Do you consent, as a people, that the Government of Quebec separate the James Bay Crees and Cree traditional territory from Canada in the event of a Yes vote in the Quebec referendum?" 96.3% of the 77% of Crees who cast ballots voted to stay in Canada. The Inuit of Nunavik held a similar local vote, asking, "Do you agree that Quebec should become sovereign?", with 96% voting No.[17] First Nations communities contributed significantly to the tense debate on a hypothetical partition of Quebec.

Opinion polling[edit]

Completion Date Polling organisation/client Sample size Yes No Undecided Lead
Oct 27 Léger & Léger 1,003 47% 41% 12% 6%
Oct 27 Unity Rally held
Oct 25 SOM 1,115 46% 40% 14% 6%
Oct 25 Angus Reid 1,029 48% 44% 8% 4%
Oct 25 President Clinton of the United States gives pro-Canada speech
Oct 23 CROP 1,072 44% 43% 13% 2%
Oct 20 Léger & Léger 1,005 46% 42% 12% 4%
Oct 18 Angus Reid 1,012 45% 44% 11% 1%
Oct 16 CROP 1,151 42% 44% 14% 2%
Oct 16 SOM 981 43% 43% 14% 0%
Oct 12 Léger & Léger 1,002 45% 42% 13% 3%
Oct 12 Gallup 1,013 39% 43% 18% 4%
Oct 11 Créatec 470 43% 49% 8% 6%
Oct 9 Lepage 1,285 45% 42% 13% 3%
Oct 7 Lucien Bouchard announced as Chief Negotiator for the Yes side
Oct 4 Léger & Léger 1,015 43% 44% 13% 1%
Sept 29 Lepage 1,369 44% 46% 10% 2%
Sept 28 Léger & Léger 1,006 44% 45% 11% 1%
Sept 27 Angus Reid 1,000 41% 45% 14% 4%
Sept 25 SOM/Environics 1,820 39% 48% 13% 9%
Sept 25 CROP 2,020 39% 47% 14% 8%
Sept 25 Decima 750 40% 42% 18% 2%
Sept 19 Créatec 1,004 39% 46% 15% 7%
Sept 14 COMPAS 500 36% 40% 24% 4%
Sept 12 SOM 1,003 37% 45% 18% 8%
Sep 9 Léger & Léger 959 44% 43% 13% 1%
Sources: Polls & the 1995 Quebec Referendum, p.15


Sovereignty for Quebec was rejected by voters by a smaller margin than in 1980, with 50.58% voting "No" and 49.42% voting "Yes". A record 94% of 5,087,009 registered Quebecers voted in the referendum. Sovereignty was the choice of francophones by an estimated majority of about 60%, while the heavily populated western part of the Montreal island, home to a large anglophone population, voted "No". The far North, the Outaouais, and the Eastern Townships also voted "No".

There was a majority "Yes" vote in 81 out of 125 National Assembly ridings. Except for areas of First Nations peoples, the "No" vote was concentrated in urban ridings.[19]

Addressing a packed room of "Yes" supporters while live on television, Jacques Parizeau blamed the result on "money and ethnic votes". Many criticized his comments.

Quebec referendum, 1995
Choice Votes  %
Referendum failed No 2,362,648 50.58
Yes 2,308,360 49.42
Valid votes 4,671,008 98.18
Invalid or blank votes 86,501 1.82
Total votes 4,757,509 100.00
Registered voters and turnout 5,087,009 93.52


Rejected ballots[edit]

After the vote, at each polling station, a Deputy Returning Officer counted the ballots while a Poll Clerk recorded the result of the count. According to the referendum legislation, the Deputy Returning Officer was appointed by the "Yes" committee, while the Poll Clerk was appointed by the "No" committee.[20] When the counting was completed, approximately 86,000 ballots were rejected by Deputy Returning Officers, alleging that they had not been marked properly by the voter.

Controversy arose over whether the Deputy Returning Officers of the Chomedey, Marguerite-Bourgeois and Laurier-Dorion ridings had rejected numerous ballots without valid reasons, mostly by being overly strict on what marks voters could use to indicate their choices (for instance, rejecting ballots with check-marks or "X"s that were crooked, too large, made with a pen instead of a pencil, etc.). In these ridings the "No" vote was dominant, and the proportion of rejected ballots was 12%, 5.5% and 3.6%.[21][22] In the riding of Chomedey, an average of 1 of every 9 ballots were rejected.[23] Thomas Mulcair, member of the Quebec National Assembly for Chomedey, told reporters after the vote that there was "an orchestrated attempt to steal the vote" in his riding.[23]

Adding to the growing controversy, a study released months after the referendum by the respected McGill University sociologist Maurice Pinard, statistician Janusz Kaczorowski and lawyer Andrew Orkin, concluded that ridings with a greater amount of "No" votes had a higher percentage of rejected ballots.[24] A few months after the referendum, the Directeur général des élections du Québec (DGEQ), Pierre F. Cote, launched an inquiry into the alleged irregularities. Under the supervision of Alan B. Gold, Chief Justice of the Quebec Superior Court, all ballots of the three ridings plus a sample of ballots from 34 other ridings were examined.

The report of the DGEQ concluded that some ballots had been rejected without valid reasons. The majority of the rejected ballots were "No" votes, in proportion to the majority of the valid votes, which were also "No" votes in these ridings. This, coupled with the correlation between the "No" vote and the rate of rejection, gave the disproportionately high number of rejected "No" votes. The report concluded that on the whole, the irregularities were isolated. Two Deputy Returning Officers were charged by the DGEQ with violating elections laws, but in 1996 were found not guilty by the Court of Quebec. It found that the Deputy Returning Officers had committed no illegal acts, and the rejected ballots were not rejected in a fraudulent or irregular manner by the Deputy Returning Officers. The evidence brought in front of the court did not sufficiently address the issue to allow the conclusion that there had been a systematic plot to steal ballots. The judgement was upheld by the Superior Court and the Court of Appeal.[25] A Quebec Court judge acquitted a Deputy Returning Officer charged with illegally rejecting 53% of the ballots cast at his Chomedey polling district.

Following the release of the DGEQ's report, supporters of the "No" campaign were outraged, calling it biased, especially reacting to Pierre F. Cote's claims that the alleged illegal spending in organizing the "Unity Rally" was more of a threat to the democratic process than what he termed as "31 people wrongly rejecting ballots".[25] In July 1996, the Montreal Gazette requested access to the thousands of rejected ballots, but it was denied by Pierre F. Cote.[26]

In 2000, Alliance Quebec's lawyer, Michael Bergman, lost its lawsuit to force the DGEQ to give the lobby group access to review all 5 million ballots cast. Bergman said that Alliance Quebec believed that "No" ballots had been rejected as part of a systematic plot by the PQ government to steal the referendum of 1995.[27] The court ruled that only a three-judge panel called the Conseil du referendum had the power under the Referendum Act to examine the ballots[28] and that the panel's mandate expired in 1996. Alliance Quebec's appeal was stayed in 2008 and the nearly 5 million cast ballots, which were being warehoused at a cost of $12,000 per year, were incinerated.[29]

In May 2005, former PQ cabinet minister Richard Le Hir said that the PQ government tried to sway the vote by sending "scrutineer shock troops" drawn from pro-sovereignty labour unions into polling stations in areas with large concentrations of Anglophone and allophone voters. He said the scrutineers (known as Deputy Returning Officers) were to reject valid "No" votes in order to "neutralize the adversary". Le Hir said the strategy was based on a belief in the PQ that the citizenships of recent immigrants had been "fast-tracked" in order to increase the "No" vote. PQ officials of the time denied that there was any such plan and said that Le Hir's allegations were untrue; they attacked his credibility.[30][31]

After the referendum, the ballot for Quebec elections was redesigned to reduce the size of the space where voters could indicate their choice[32] and the rules on allowable markings were relaxed, so that Deputy Returning Officers would have fewer grounds for rejecting ballots.

Spending limits[edit]

Following a ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada issued on October 17, 1997 (see Libman vs. Quebec-Attorney General), some sections of Quebec's referendum law restricting third-party expenditures were judged unconstitutional, as they were too restrictive to be justified as a reasonable limit "prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society", as per section 1 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Canadian Unity Council and Option Canada[edit]

An obscure Montreal-based lobby group called Option Canada was incorporated on September 7, 1995, eight weeks before the vote. Its goal was to promote federalism in Quebec.[33] Option Canada was created by the Canadian Unity Council, a group devoted to “strengthening Canada”.[34] The council's head was Jocelyn Beaudoin, later appointed by Jean Charest's provincial government as Quebec's representative in Toronto. Alfred Pilon, Charest's former chief of staff, and Claude Dauphin, an aide to then federal finance minister Paul Martin, were key players in Option Canada.[35]

Option Canada received $1.6 million in funding from the Canadian Heritage Department in 1994, $3.35 million in 1995 and $1.1 million in 1996.[36] The Montreal Gazette reported in March 1997 that the group also had other funds from undeclared sources.[33]

A Committee to Register Voters Outside Quebec was created to help citizens who had left Quebec in the two years before the 1995 vote register on the electoral list. Since 1989, a clause of the Quebec electoral laws allowed for ex-residents of Quebec to signal their intention of returning to Quebec and to vote by mail. The Committee, which operated during the referendum campaign, handed out pamphlets including a form to be added to the list of voters. The pamphlet gave out a toll-free number as contact information, which was the same number as the one used by the Canadian Unity Council.[37]

After the referendum, the Chief Electoral Officer of Quebec, Pierre F. Côté, filed 20 criminal charges of illegal expenditures by Option Canada and others on behalf of the "No" side, which were dropped after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that parts of the referendum law were too restrictive on third-party spending.

Unity Rally[edit]

Main article: Unity Rally

A rally celebrating a united Canada was organized three days before the referendum vote. On October 27, 1995, an estimated 100,000 Canadians from all provinces of Canada were gathered at the Place du Canada for what was called the "Unity Rally".[9] This estimated number was largely disputed on the day of the rally and would be for many years to come.[38] (There were huge discrepancies on the size of the crowd in the media. Montreal's English-language radio station CJAD reported the crowd at upward of 150,000, where CKAC, a French-language radio station, reported the crowd at 30,000.)[39]

Aurèle Gervais, communications director for the Liberal Party of Canada, as well as the students' association at Ottawa's Algonquin College, were charged with infractions of Quebec's Election Act after the referendum for illegally hiring buses to bring supporters to Montreal for the rally, part of a larger accusation by some supporters of Quebec sovereignty that much of the spending on the rally was illegal because it was not authorized by the "No" Committee or entered in its expenditure report.[40] Environment Minister Sergio Marchi told reporters "Mr. Gervais, on behalf of the Liberal Party of Canada, should wear [the charges against him] like a badge of honor", and "I think it's a crock and they should stop nickelling and diming Canadians' sense of patriotism to death".[41] Two years later, the Quebec Superior Court dismissed the charges, stating that the actions took place outside of Quebec and so the Quebec Election Act did not apply.[42]

Robin Philpot, co-author of the book "Les secrets d'Option Canada", claimed former federal minister Brian Tobin, chief organizer for the rally, told him that various Canadian corporations had helped to fund the initiative.[43] Two days prior to the rally, Canadian Airlines had announced its "Unity fare: up to 90% discounts for people who want to purchase tickets from anywhere in Canada".[38] Quebec chief electoral officer Pierre F. Cote then issued a warning to six different Canadian transport companies, including Air Canada, Canadian Airlines and Via Rail, that they would face up to a $10,000 fine for any money illegally spent transporting people to Montreal.[44]

Grenier Report[edit]

The Directeur général des élections du Québec asked retired Quebec court judge Bernard Grenier in 2006 to investigate Option Canada, and allegations of illegal spending by the "No" side.

He determined that C$539,000 was illegally spent by the "No" side during the referendum, although he drew no conclusions over the "Unity Rally" specifically. Grenier said there was no foregone evidence that the rally was part of a greater plan to sabotage the sovereigntist movement.[45]

Grenier said no criminal charges would follow the results of his findings. Grenier told reporters "Criminal charges are out of the question", and "It's only an opinion. It's not a judgment of guilt or civil liability".[40] Quebec Premier Jean Charest, who was then vice-president of the "No" committee, was cleared of any wrongdoing by Grenier. Political analysts had predicted Charest's credibility would be damaged if Grenier implicated him in the report.[45]

Grenier's report said some witnesses he heard wanted to testify about illegal spending by the "Yes" side, specifically about a group founded in the spring of 1995, the "Conseil de la souverainete du Québec". Grenier concluded his mandate did not extend to probing that body's finances.

Although the Grenier report found significantly less overspending by the "No" side than the $5 million that Normand Lester and Robin Philpot, co-authors of the book "The Secrets of Option Canada", had alleged, Lester used Grenier's findings to encourage a complete federal investigation into the matter, especially into funding for the "Unity Rally".[46] The Montreal Gazette, in an article published on May 30, 2007, claimed that the government of Quebec may have also been illegally spending money, possibly more than Option Canada spent, into supporting the "Yes" side through government departments, a series of studies, and in various other ways.[33]

Grenier urged Quebecers in his report to move on, saying "I think it's now time to move forward, to move ahead".[45]

Following the release of Grenier's report, the Bloc Québécois called for a federal inquiry into the matter. Prime Minister Stephen Harper dismissed the issue.[43]

Citizenship and Immigration Canada[edit]

Citizenship Court judges from across Canada were sent into the province to work overtime to ensure as many qualified immigrants living in Quebec as possible had Canadian citizenship before the referendum, and thus were able to vote. The goal was to have 10,000 to 20,000 outstanding citizenship applications processed for residents of Quebec by mid-October. As well, the federal government also halved the time needed to process certificates for those who had lost their citizenship.[47]

When confronted about the issue by a Bloc Québécois MP who suggested shortcuts were being taken to hurry citizenship applications for immigrants who would most likely vote "No", Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Sergio Marchi responded:

What is being done with respect to citizenship processing in the province of Quebec leading up to the referendum is nothing different from any lead up to any provincial campaign. My department has done likewise with the provinces of Manitoba, New Brunswick and Ontario. If we compare the number of citizenship processings with the year of the Ontario election, it is up some 45 per cent.

When further pressed about the issue, he pointed out that the Bloc had "criticized [Ottawa] in the past for moving too slowly on the applications. Now they are saying we are moving too fast. Which one is it?"[48]

Statistics compiled by Citizenship and Immigration Canada show that some 43,855 new Quebecers obtained their Canadian citizenship during 1995. About one quarter of these (11,429) were granted their citizenship during the month of October. The data also shows an increase in certificate issuances by 87% between 1993 and 1995. The year 1996 saw a drop of 39%.[49]

Electoral list[edit]

PQ activists from the Eastern Townships region brought a case of referendum fraud before the DGEQ. As a result of the inquiry, 5 students studying at Bishop's University in Lennoxville were fined after pleading guilty of voting illegally in 1995.[49][50]

In response, the Quebec government later changed the Electoral Act so that voters would need to show a Canadian passport, Quebec drivers' license or RAMQ card at the polling station for identification purposes in future elections.


PQ leadership[edit]

The day after the referendum, Jacques Parizeau resigned as the leader of the Parti Québécois, as he had said he would do in an interview with TVA taped days before the referendum but not made public until after the vote. Lucien Bouchard was the only candidate to succeed him. Bouchard became Premier on January 29, 1996. Over the course of the next few years, support for sovereignty decreased. Despite winning reelection in 1998, the PQ chose not to hold another referendum, waiting for "winning conditions". The PQ would lose the 2003 provincial election to the Quebec Liberal Party, led by Jean Charest.

The Clarity Act[edit]

Before the referendum, federalists promised reform of the federal system to be more accommodating to Quebec's concerns. After the referendum, reforms were made, such as a federal law requiring the approval of the regions (including Quebec) to amend the constitution. The federal government also pursued what Chrétien called "Plan B", to try to convince voters that economic and legal obstacles would follow if Quebec were to declare itself sovereign.[51] This culminated in the federal government's 2000 Clarity Act which stated that any future referendum would have to be on a "clear question" and that it would have to represent a "clear majority" for the federal Parliament to recognize its validity. The meaning of both a "clear question" and a "clear majority" is left unspecified in the act, to be interpreted by the Supreme Court.


Following the narrow victory, the Chrétien government established a pro-Canada advertising campaign. The aim was to sponsor hunting, fishing and other recreational events, and in doing so promote Canada within Quebec. While many of the events sponsored were legitimate, a large sum of money was mismanaged. Auditor General Sheila Fraser released a report in November 2003, outlining the problems. This eventually led to the Gomery Commission's investigation of the Sponsorship Scandal. Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe argued that Canada was trying to "buy" federalism and using it as an excuse to channel dirty money into Liberal-friendly pockets. This scandal's extensive coverage in Quebec contributed support to the sovereignty movement.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Patriation: The Constitution Comes Home. The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved on June 1, 2007.
  2. ^ Benesh, Peter. "As Quebec goes, so goes Canada". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. September 12, 1994.
  3. ^ Gamble, David. "Bouchard: 'It's My Job'". The Toronto Sun. February 20, 1995.
  4. ^ Delacourt, Susan. "Flesh-eating disease claims leader's leg". The Tampa Tribune. December 4, 1994.
  5. ^ Corbella, Licia. "Confused separatists not new". The Toronto Sun. May 16, 2007.
  6. ^ Ruypers et al., (2005). Canadian and World Politics. Emond Montgomery Publication. p. 196. ISBN 978-1-55239-097-9. 
  7. ^ Wells, Paul: And then a referendum ate them all., published Tuesday, March 4, 2014 (
  8. ^ Trueheart, Charles. "Quebecer Damages Separatist Cause With Remark on Low Province Birthrate". The Washington Post. October 18, 1995.
  9. ^ a b Garsten, Ed. "Canadians rally for a united country". CNN. October 28, 1995.
  10. ^ "'We, the people of Quebec, declare ...'". The Toronto Star. September 7, 1995.
  11. ^
  12. ^ McKenzie, Robert. "Sovereignty declaration possible in 'months' Parizeau stresses swift action if talks fail". The Toronto Star. October 17, 1995.
  13. ^ Francis, Diane. "Separatists in the army? We'll never know". The Toronto Sun. p 12. September 14, 1996.
  14. ^ Crary, David. "Canada's renegades rally to a champion". Hobart Mercury. October 18, 1995.
  15. ^ a b Seguin, Rheal. "Ministers plotted to oust Chrétien if referendum was lost, CBC says". The Globe and Mail. September 9, 2005.
  16. ^ "Reform to be vocal on referendum". The Globe and Mail. July 31, 1995.
  17. ^ a b Aboriginal Peoples and the 1995 Quebec Referendum: A survey of the issues. Parliamentary Research Branch (PRB) of the Library of Parliament. February 1996.
  18. ^ - Sovereign Injustice
  19. ^ Drolet, Daniel. "By the numbers", in The Ottawa Citizen. November 1, 1995.
  20. ^ ^Referendum Act (Quebec), R.S.Q. c.C-64.1, App. 2, S. 310
  21. ^ "Mysterious doings on referendum night". The Globe and Mail. November 9, 1995.
  22. ^ "Référendum du 30 octobre 1995". Elections Quebec. Retrieved on June 1, 2007.
  23. ^ a b Gray, John. "Be strict, PQ told scrutineers 'Following the rules' in Chomedey meant 1 ballot in 9 rejected, mostly votes for No". The Globe and Mail. November 10, 1995.
  24. ^ Contenta, Sandro. "Fears fuelled of referendum plot New report says 'charges of electoral bias ... are plausible'". The Toronto Star. April 29, 1996.
  25. ^ a b Contenta, Sandro. "31 face charges over rejection of No ballots But 'no conspiracy' to steal vote found". The Toronto Star. May 14, 1996.
  26. ^ "Paper seeks rejected referendum ballots". The Toronto Star. July 20, 1996.
  27. ^ Wyatt, Nelson. "English rights group eyes cash for fight over rejected ballots". The Toronto Star. August 3, 2000.
  28. ^ Referendum Act s.42.
  29. ^ The Globe and Mail. May 1, 2008.
  30. ^ Marsden, William. "Chomedey scrutineers... ...'under orders'". The Montreal Gazette. A8. November 2, 1995.
  31. ^ Seguin, Rheal. "PQ accused of considering Nazi-style tactics in 1995; Former minister says Parizeau weighed using propaganda before referendum". The Globe and Mail. May 20, 2005.
  32. ^ Photo of 1995 referendum ballot and photo of Quebec sample ballot 2006
  33. ^ a b c "Option Canada fuss amounts to little". The Montreal Gazette. May 30, 2007.
  34. ^ "Mounties eye another referendum handout". The Globe and Mail. January 5, 2006.
  35. ^ "Option Canada report could add pressure to Charest's minority government". May 28, 2007.
  36. ^ Feurgeson, Elizabeth. "A snapshot of Option Canada's history". The Montreal Gazette. May 30, 2007.
  37. ^ Macpherson, Don. "Vote-hunting Bid to lure outside voters not a formula for stability". The Montreal Gazette. August 22, 1995.
  38. ^ a b Cardinal, Mario (2005). Breaking Point: Quebec Canada, The 1995 Referendum,. Montreal: Bayard Canada Books. ISBN 2-89579-068-X. 
  39. ^ [1][The Gazette. Montreal, Que.: October 28, 1995. pg. A.10]
  40. ^ a b "Source of funding for huge federalist rally in Quebec in 1995 still a mystery". 570 News. May 29, 2007.
  41. ^ Vienneau, David. "Unity rally charges against top Liberal a 'badge of honor'". The Toronto Star. June 4, 1996.
  42. ^ [2] [The Gazette. Montreal, Que.: April 5, 1997. p. B4]
  43. ^ a b "Option Canada book authors say they feel vindicated by report". The Montreal Gazette. May 30, 2007.
  44. ^ [3][The Gazette. Montreal, Que.: October 27, 1995. p. A11]
  45. ^ a b c "'No' side illegally spent $539K in Quebec referendum: report". May 29, 2007.
  46. ^ "Ex-Option Canada director resigns after report on referendum spending". May 30, 2007.
  47. ^ "Citizenship blitz in Quebec". The Montreal Gazette. August 31, 1995.
  48. ^ "Question Period – Monday, October 16, 1995". Parliament of Canada. Retrieved on June 10, 2007.
  49. ^ a b O'Neill, Pierre. "Le camp du NON a-t-il volé le référendum de 1995?". Le Devoir. August 11, 1999.
  50. ^
  51. ^ Harder & Patten, eds., The Chrétien Legacy (McGill Queen's University Press, 2006) p. 43

Further reading[edit]

  • Argyle, Ray. Turning Points: The Campaigns That Changed Canada - 2011 and Before (2011) excerpt and text search ch 15
  • CBC documentary Breaking Point (2005)
  • Robin Philpot (2005). Le Référendum volé. Montreal: Les éditions des intouchables. ISBN 2-89549-189-5. 
  • Paul Jay documentary Neverendum Referendum
  • Fox, John; Andersen, Robert; Dubonnet, Joseph (1999). "The Polls and the 1995 Quebec Referendum". Canadian Journal of Sociology 24 (3): 411–424. JSTOR 3341396. 

External links[edit]