1980 Referendum

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The 1960's had begun with the emergence of the quiet revolution in Quebec and the rejection of the traditional conservative coalition of provincial power with the catholic church and big business. Quebecers wanted more control over their province and destiny and as the Liberal government nationalized utilities, changed the laws and opened up the government to the people, the demand for nationalistic causes increased dramatically.

The Quiet revolution turned into violent revolution with bombings of government facilities and business leaders homes and the birth of the FLQ. This course of action cumulated in the 1970 October Crisis with the result that a Quebec Cabinet Minister, Pierre Laporte, was brutally executed left in the trunk of an abandoned car. There was another way, a democratic, peaceful way and in 1968 this path was initiated by Rene  Levesque when he was elected the first leader of the Parti Quebecoise or PQ, which was dedicate to a split from Canada in the form of a relationship known as sovereignty association.

By 1976 the PQ had won power in Quebec and prepared to implement their plan with a calling of a referendum in Quebec over the question of sovereignty association. The main opponent to Levesque and the PQ was bound to be Pierre
Trudeau
who completely rejected the concept of a Quebec outside of the Canadian Federation. When Trudeau was defeated at the polls by Joe Clark in 1979, the time looked very opportune for the PQ to call and win their referendum. Levesque set May 20th , 1980 as the date for the vote and laid out their argument and their plan for taking Quebec out of Confederation.

During the December session of the Federal Parliament, the Conservative minority government allowed a confidence vote to occur which they were not sure they could win on. Clark felt that even if the Conservatives lost the vote, they could win the next Federal election and the government went down to defeat. The Liberals revived Trudeau's leadership and upon returning to the political arena, he won a majority mandate over the Conservatives and the champion of the Federalist cause was back in the ring.

The PQ set the question for the referendum (below)

 

"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?"

«Le Government 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?»

 

The leader of the provincial Liberal Party, Claude Ryan, campaigned against the question but a lacklustre performance resulted in many polls showing that the PQ could win the referendum. On March 9th a minister in the PQ government committed a major gaffe by referring to Claude Ryan's wife as an Yvettes which was a somewhat derogatory term. This caused an outcry from many women across the province and climaxed in a rally of 14,000 women who denounced the responsible ministers, Lise Payette, comments at a rally in Montreal.

The real turning point in the campaign was when Trudeau finally descended upon the fight on the night of May 14th, just 6 days before the referendum, he gave a powerful, emotional yet logical speech which ripped into the philosophy of the separatists. He promised renewed attempts to bring Quebec into Confederation in a new way and appealed to Quebecers to vote no.

On May 20, the people of Quebec went to the polls and voted against the PQ and separation by a 19% margin, 59% against separation and 40% in favour. The question however was not settled as many in the PQ saw this as only the first round in a fight that was to resume. Canada as a whole breathed a sigh of relief and Trudeau launched himself into bringing the Canadian constitution home from Great Britain and bring Quebec fully into the family of Confederation .

 




Source:
Reference: www.canadahistory.com/sections/eras/eras.html