Monday, December 24, 2018

What if: "Yes" vote, Quebec 1995 - The people

In this post I would like to examine 9 key people and what they expected and wanted in the event of a "yes" vote. 3 from the "yes" side, 3 from the "no" side, and 3 from outside Quebec; one of whom will expand into subchapters.

Note that I will be citing no sources. This is from memory; and while I am double checking various items, a lot of what I'm sharing does not come from public sources, and was shared with me during my time in politics by those who played roles at the time or know those who did.


Mario Dumont

Dumont was 25 years old at the time. The ADQ leader. The ADQ won 6.5% of the election in the 1994 election. To get to the point; Dumont was in over his head, and even admitted that he was simply following the intuition of Bouchard. As such he had little in the way of plans after the referendum.

Lucien Bouchard

Bouchard's main aim was a renegotiation of the Canada-Quebec relationship. Bouchard started to get the, correct, idea that Parizeau was going to push him out. The problem is that despite time to think about how he would have reacted, it seems he had no clue how to defeat Parizeau at this beyond publicly denouncing him.

Jacques Parizeau

Parizeau's dream was to see a Quebec flag at the United Nations. Parizeau had plans to tighten control over the process after the vote; he was moving to exclude Bouchard and wanted to purposefully botch any negotiations that could lead to Quebec remaining within Canada. the Parizeau-Bouchard feud will be the topic of another post.


Daniel Johnson

Johnson quickly became overwhelmed with events. What plans, if any, he had in the event of a yes-side victory are not widely known, and it is generally thought and expected that the forum of events would have moved outside of Quebec towards dialogue between Quebec and the remainder of Canada.

Jean Charest

Charest was seen by many as the best campaigner during the referendum, and despite his party having only two seats, he still maintained quite a bit of influence over events. Charest was a federalist and likely would have bent the least if at all possible; his problem is this was likely not possible.

Jean Chretien

As Prime Minister, Chretien had the most to lose. His plan was simple; to deny that a yes vote was a vote to leave Canada. Chretien was on shaky ground, not only as a Quebec PM but as the guy who would have overseen the loss.


Sheila Copps

As Deputy Prime Minister, Copps, as well as some of those in Cabinet, felt that the government would become hers to lead in the event of a yes victory.

Allan Rock

We now know, both through contemporary leaks and current implication of past decisions, that Allan Rock had enough support within the Liberal Party and its Cabinet to take over the leadership and the government in the event of a yes win.

Roy Romanow

Romanow was Premier of Saskatchewan; which leads us to the


Many provinces had various plans and ideas, which I will go through below.


Saskatchewan had extensive plans in the event of a yes vote. There were plans for every realistic possibility that every province would have to face. These plans included

1 - A reformed Canada.
Prefered by many, and implied by the final committee report to be the most preferable option. Expected to include a EEE Senate, some additional powers for the provinces, and should Quebec be kept in Canada, veto powers for Quebec on various items. Both a Canada with Quebec and a Quebecless Canada were considered under this section.

2 - Independence, alone.
This would leave Saskatchewan in a very vulnerable position. Widely seen as a non-starter for Saskatchewan.

3 - Independence, with others.
Saskatchewan in particular expected BC and Alberta to work with them. This was presented as the main alternative to a reformed Canada.

4 - Annexation to the United States
Being so close to the US, and the US being made up of States, allowed provinces like Saskatchewan to consider joining simply as a new state. This was seen as the fall back option should both "Canada" and "Western Canada" fail to materialize as reformed nations.

These 4 options would become the bedrock for every province, and though they did not examine the details as closely as Saskatchewan did, no province would have any inkling or idea to do anything else.


Newfoundland was in a very bad place at the time of the referendum. To fully understand the Newfoundland mindset, it helps to know more about the 1948-1949 Referendums that brought Newfoundland into Canada.

In 1946 a convention was called to discuss the future of Newfoundland. At that convention, it was decided to hold a referendum 2 years later, and on it, to present three options. First, to continue with the commission of government, which would see the UK continue to govern Newfoundland as a colony. Second, for Newfoundland to resume its Independence. and Third, for Newfoundland to join Canada. The convention rejected a fourth option; that of joining the United States. The referendum saw 45% vote for Independence, 41% vote for joining with Canada, and 14% vote to remain with the commission.

The following month a final referendum was held that saw 52% vote to join Canada with 48% voting to become independent.

Those that wanted to join the United States supported Independence both times; but it is generally thought that the majority of those who wanted to join Canada would have been at least somewhat friendly towards joining the United States; and given the situation in the United States at it time, and that in the UK, it is thought that a vote for Independence would have seen Newfoundland join the USA within a decade.

This is the context in which many Newfoundlanders viewed the current situation, in 1995.

In short; there was a massive pull among many within Newfoundland to join the United States should Quebec vote to leave Canada. Despite this, change is always more difficult than the status quo, and if a quick and easy deal could be reached, Newfoundland would have been likely to stay.


All 3 maritime provinces had made an agreement with one another to stick together during the crisis.

The general feeling in the 3 provinces was that there were 3 basic options open to them. The first was remaining in a reduced Canada (most in the Maritimes expected a yes vote meant Quebec was gone and gone for good) with the second being all 3 provinces, united as 1, joining the United States. The final of the 3 options would have seen all 3 provinces, united as one, forming an independent nation; much as was the plan in 1867 when delegates from all 3 met in Charlottetown to discuss union before Canada showed up unannounced.


The Manitoba government at the time was more friendly towards the idea of joining with the other Western provinces than was widely known. Despite that the province was generally seen as having the strongest will among all provinces to keep Canada united at any cost.

Alberta and British Columbia

Some thought had gone into 'what next' in both provinces. Both, with BC being much more receptive, generally agreed to follow the lead of Saskatchewan. Alberta is generally known to have strongly wanted a "EEE Senate" which would have seen a senate with real effective power have an equal number of elected members from every province.

Yukon and the North

What little we know about events in the north was that the Yukon had effectively decided to stick with BC due to their ties to that province. No credible information has ever come out about the plans of the Northwest Territories; which at the time, included Nunavut.


Ontario was widely unready and did not make much of a plan for a yes vote.


Things would have been an utter mess.

We know though various infrequent surveys and things said since, that Ontario would have accepted a EEE senate as part of a reform package if push ever came to shove. Given what we know about the plans in the Prairies, as well as the feelings of BC, one could effectively lock down those 5 provinces into a reformed Canada. Along with them the Yukon and likely the NWT would have remained; thus ensuring that Canada, west of Ottawa, remains united.

The Maritimes likely would have signed on to such a deal, with the only big question being if Newfoundland does as well. With the other remaining provinces agreeing, it is quite likely that Newfoundland would have also gone along, and signed on to this new Canada.

All of this, however, assumes a Canada without Quebec.

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