Share October 31, 2020 3:00 am Updated at 4:07 am Share 25 years of the referendum: an evening of great emotions [PHOTOS]
Olivier Bossé Le Soleil 25 years ago, Quebeckers said no to sovereignty for a second time. Four political actors of the time testify to their referendum of October 30, 1995. An even more unique experience for these deputies, who then resided in the people's house, the parliament. The capital, Quebec, was at the heart of this historic democratic exercise and proved to be a decisive battleground.
“WE HAD A NARROW ESCAPE”
“At one point, I hear: 'Well let's see, it can't be!' I look and it's marked 49.2 or 49.3. Me, I say: “Come on, Montreal is not home.” And someone answers me: “Margaret, Montreal is back” … Hey Lord! Honestly, we got away with it. ”
The roller coaster of emotions experienced throughout the evening of October 30, 1995 – into the night! – are still fresh in the mind of Margaret F. Delisle. Even 25 years later.
She was the only representative of the Liberal Party of Quebec elected north of the river in the Quebec region since the general elections of the previous year. Ms. Delisle had won narrowly, by 25 votes.
Its position was therefore highly strategic. Its role in the Non camp: to be part of all the battles fought in the capital.
“I walked! Fortunately, my children weren't young, because I would have found it difficult, ”laughs in a telephone interview with Le Soleil the one who remained MP for Jean-Talon from 1994 to 2007. She had previously been mayor of the old town of Sillery, nine years old.
The referendum campaign, “It was a lot of meetings. But not like an election. It was more from individual to individual, from person to person, ”she explains, remembering having toured CEGEPs and universities.
Campaign whose real starting point had been given no less than 13 months earlier, on September 12, 1994, with the election of the Parti Quebecois led by Jacques Parizeau.
“From the moment the Parti Québécois was elected, it went like an arrow!” remembers the now 74-year-old woman. “It was a full year of preparation, we stayed in electoral mode all year. We formed committees and we motivated our troops, who were already very, very motivated. I know the PQ was more motivated than ever, but so are we. “
His riding was the only one of the 11 in the Capitale-Nationale region to vote No, at 52%.
Margaret Delisle remembers the vivid emotions experienced during the evening of October 30, 1995. Le Soleil, Erick Labbé
“We got noticed”
The same goes on the other side of the St. Lawrence, a little further east, in Montmagny-L'Islet, now the Côte-du-Sud.
Liberal MP Réal Gauvin says he is still very proud, a quarter of a century later, to have seen his constituents favor 55% of the option he had so ardently promoted. “But always with respect and trust,” he says today.
The neighboring ridings Beauce-Nord, Beauce-Sud and Bellechasse had also leaned in favor of federalism.
At the height of his 85 years and still installed in his native village of Saint-Adalbert, on the border of Maine, where he gives a boost to his three sons in the transport company he founded, Mr. Gauvin remembers that “we got noticed. The great leaders for the No, in Montreal, congratulated us ”.
Of the 32 municipalities making up his constituency, only three had given a majority to Yes, he said.
After Ungava (84.6%), Montmagny-L'Islet obtained the lowest participation rate in Quebec, at 88.3%. Just ahead of its neighbor Kamouraska-Témiscouata (88.5%), also bordering on the United States.
Sculptors from Saint-Jean-Port-Joli, the artistic heart of the county, had declared their support for MP Gauvin in the local newspaper, which had flattered him.
On the night of the vote, “we were all very confident. But people were invited to a detention: “Let's be careful, let's be careful!” that we repeated. And at the beginning, it did not evolve as we wanted, so that cooled us down! The results were coming out of regions which were oddly more favorable to Yes and we wondered if we were not going to slip … But suddenly, everything was adjusted, ”says the one who sat in the National Assembly of Quebec from 1985 to 2003.
The leader of the Yes camp, Jacques Parizeau, in the countryside in Quebec, October 25, 1995 The Canadian Press, Jacques Boissinot
“What the hell is going on ?!”
In Quebec, her colleague Delisle received a panic call in the middle of the night, literally from across Canada. The mayor of Abbotsford, British Columbia, met during his years at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. George Ferguson was very worried.
“I remember very well that the phone rang at 2 or 3 am on the evening of the referendum. In the middle of the night! He said to me, in English: “What the hell is going on ?!” They were scared, I can tell you! ” she laughs 25 years later, saying that she has always felt the responsibility of making Quebec's particularities understandable to the rest of Canada.
She claims to be a “Quebec nationalist, but not an independentist”. When she looks at the generation of her children, aged 44 to 50, “they are elsewhere”, she assures us. “It doesn't mean that they wouldn't question if there was another referendum, but they are no longer in that spirit.”
For his part, Mr. Gauvin notes that “there are still great dreamers of separation and these people must also be respected. They see it as taking control of our future, but our future is already mapped out in Quebec.
“The referendum set the tone for several years, contrary to what others are saying,” he sums up. Quebec has been perceived much better outside for 20 or 30 years, ”notes the one whose company transports Quebec timber to the United States. “There was this concern: 'Is Quebec going to separate?' But now, what the Americans are telling us is that Quebec plays an important role in Canada. ”
Roger Bertrand says he has lost neither his ardor nor his convictions 25 years after the referendum. The Sun, Yan Doublet
Disappointment. The word repeats itself and encapsulates the moment. “It was the big disappointment,” says Roger Bertrand. “The most total disappointment and the most total pain,” says Rosaire Bertrand.
Former members of the Parti Québécois and unrelated namesakes, the two men speak of the referendum defeat of 1995 as an injury that still hurts. Despite several years that have passed. And for several reasons.
“For me, the three main causes of our defeat are the illegal financing of the No camp, the sharp increase in new voters who had just received their citizenship from the federal government and the disappointing performance of the Quebec region”, lists Roger Bertrand, PQ member for Portneuf from 1993 to 2003.
The capital was less favorable to sovereignty, up to 55%, than all the francophones of the province, who chose the Yes at about 60%.
“We can see that in the great moments of its political and constitutional life, the Quebec City region has always been cautious. I had said at one point that she “played buttocks”, ”illustrates Roger Bertrand, who traces a historical link to the Patriotes Rebellion of 1837-38, when the Quebec region was rather passive.
“Basically, the Quebec region is in relative comfort,” says Bertrand, now 73 years old. “It's largely French-speaking, even almost completely. People control their institutions. Why would we change something that is going well? ”
Rosaire Bertrand also suffered the failure in doubles. Elected provincial for Charlevoix from 1994 to 2007, he had previously been president of the PQ for the Capitale-Nationale, during the years leading up to the 1994 election, before becoming president of the entire PQ caucus.
“The element on which I insist the most is that we had, the Yes, a large organization in the Quebec City region, and I include Chaudière-Appalaches. We had not been a government in place for years that you started to criticize, etc. M. Parizeau and the party were at their best! We were normally entitled to think that, in the Quebec region, we would have a super good result, ”he says, with a certain bitterness.
“I took it very, very hard,” he admits. Since 1989, we had set up a great organization. Beautiful candidates who had been elected, whether it was Jean Rochon, Roger Bertrand, Paul Bégin … We had been elected with large majorities. So for me, the results in Quebec were a big disappointment, added to the pain of losing the referendum. ”
Yes supporters in shock on the evening of October 30, 1995. Archives The Canadian Press, Paul Chiasson
The thunderclap Parizeau
The resignation of Prime Minister Jacques Parizeau the very next day was the other PQ drama.
Rosaire Bertrand was close to Mr. Parizeau. But even he had not seen the departure of the chief, he confides a quarter of a century later.
“In the years preceding the referendum, during our personal meetings, Mr. Parizeau had explained to me so much how it would work the day after the referendum that I, in my head, was already preparing for the outcome of a winning referendum. . I had every reason in the world to believe that we would win, ”says the 84-year-old man of today, who was then Minister responsible for the Capitale-Nationale under Bernard Landry, from 2001 to 2003.
The fall was therefore all the more abrupt for him.
“I had received a confidence from someone who was very, very close to Mr. Parizeau and who told me that in the event of defeat, he would resign. But I told myself it was not possible! Because Mr. Parizeau was so popular inside the party and in the deputation, that even if we lost, it was not possible for him to leave. I didn't believe it!
“But when the news arrived, at the end of the afternoon [of October 31, the day after the vote], I was driving my wife with my wife, and there I had the shock of my life! continues Rosaire Bertrand. This guy should never have left he was so good, he was so strong and he knew where he was going. But he did it because he kept his word. ”
Visceral fear of losing again
Roger Bertrand was less close to the independence core. Because of his role as president of the National Assembly, which commands a certain neutrality. He had also spent the day of October 30 in a riding, the only place where he could show himself for the Yes as a member of Parliament.
He also did not believe in a resignation of the chief before being placed in front of the accomplished facts. “In the previous weeks, I explained to my constituents that Mr. Parizeau was a statesman and that, whatever happened, he was going to continue,” he recalls.
What pisses him off the most these days is that conversations about sovereignty focus on the referendum mechanics as such, when to hold it. And above all, this “visceral fear that we have of losing a third referendum”, according to Roger Bertrand.
“I still don't understand the obsession we have on the referendum! The question we always ask politicians: “When are you going to hold a referendum?” The question is not there! The question is: “What do you have to say to support your option? Are you really sure it would be a winner and why? ” The same goes for those who are against it. This is how we are going to start discussing the substance of the question again ”, concludes the one who has not lost“ neither my ardor nor my convictions ”, even if he does not believe to see a third referendum on the sovereignty of the Quebec during his lifetime.
“I took it very, very hard, recognizes the former member of Charlevoix Rosaire Bertrand, speaking of the defeat of the Yes. Le Soleil photo library
RESULTS BY CIRCUMSCRIPTION
ALL OF QUEBEC 49.4% 50.6%
Charlesbourg 53.2% / 46.8%
Charlevoix 56.6% / 43.4%
Chauveau 54.5% / 45.5%
Jean-Talon 48.0% / 52.0%
La Peltrie 54.7% / 45.3%
Limoilou 51.9% / 48.1%
Louis-Hébert 53.0% / 47.0%
Montmorency 57.6% / 42.4%
Portneuf 54.3% / 45.7%
Taschereau 59.0% / 41.0%
Vanier 55.2% / 44.8%
Beauce-Nord 44.6% / 55.4%
Beauce-Sud 42.5% / 57.5%
Bellechasse 47.2% / 52.8%
Chutes-de-la-Chaudière 60.1% / 39.9%
Frontenac 53.0% / 47.0%
Lévis 56.5% / 43.5%
Lotbinière 50.1% / 49.9%
Montmagny-L'Islet 44.9% / 55.1%