25 years ago, the missed opportunity

It was touching to hear Lucien Bouchard and Mario Dumont interviewed at “Devoir” yesterday.

Twenty-five years after the referendum, Bouchard said he was sad about this missed opportunity with a few tens of thousands of votes.

It should be noted that he did not immediately speak, as he did 25 years ago, of sovereignty. But he stressed that this would have been a unique opportunity for the Quebec political community to finally express itself on the political status it wants.

Since the beginning, this had never happened.

The Quebec nation did not choose the Sovereign Council of New France in 1663 (which a giant painting by Charles Huot reminds us of at the Red Salon of the National Assembly). Subsequently, this nation lived in a succession of regimes imposed or never ratified by it: British Conquest (1759), Constitutional Act (1791), Union (1840), Confederation (1867), repatriation of 1982.

Bouchard is right: a yes in 1995, even a small one, would have opened up something new; would have triggered an “obligation to negotiate”, to use the expression that the Supreme Court coined in 1998.

Before 1995, one of my teachers, Guy Laforest, predicted that if a yes were to occur in the 1990s, we would end up with the creation of a sort of Canada-Quebec.

There would have been no strict separation, but undoubtedly a sovereignty-association as they said in 1980; or “partnership”, as it was renamed in 1995.

What happened to cause a result as strong as 49.42% to lead to such a collapse of the nationalist camp afterwards?

With a much more difficult defeat in 1980, René Lévesque had found words of hope. In 1995, Jacques Parizeau’s acrimony seems to have annihilated the power of the result.

Then, it was his replacement by Lucien Bouchard, who came to Quebec a little reluctantly, much out of duty. He focused his action on the strictly managerial achievement of the zero deficit; but, a tour de force, by completing the Quebec welfare state (CPE, drug insurance, etc.).

Mario Dumont and the ADQ, for their part, abandoned constitutional nationalism; even advocated a 10-year moratorium on these issues by opting for a center-right positioning.

A quarter of a century has finally passed. And anyone who raises the question of Quebec’s political status today is answered curtly that no one wants to talk about that: “The fruit is not ripe”; “There is no appetite”.

Think about it: it was important enough to lead us to great crises (Meech’s heartbreak, 1995 referendum) 25, 30 years ago.

Since then, those who posed a “problem”, Quebeckers, have not obtained anything. But their elites told them to look elsewhere, to stop complaining, to stop claiming political status.

One of two things: either we had exaggerated the problems of our status (with which we decided to come to terms as best we could). Or Quebecers have opted for a kind of submission.

Whether it will be temporary or lasting remains to be seen.


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