Saturday, October 24

25 years of the 1995 referendum | Bisbille between Parizeau and Bouchard

(Quebec) The tension was noticeable, but the magnitude was hardly suspected. Before the referendum campaign of 1995, relations between Jacques Parizeau and Lucien Bouchard, relations between the PQ and the Bloc Québécois came to a hair’s breadth of shattering the sovereignist camp.

Denis lessard
Denis lessard

Made public in recent weeks, the report on the deliberations of the Council of Ministers in Quebec throws a harsh light on the intensity of the clash between the standard-bearers of sovereignty. The spark in a powder keg: a speech by Lucien Bouchard at the Bloc Québécois convention, held at the Palais des congrès de Montréal on April 7, 1995, will spark a chain reaction and reveal the gulf between the two helmsmen of the Oui.


Jacques Parizeau, leader of the Parti Québécois, and Lucien Bouchard, leader of the Bloc Québécois, in May 1995

Cleavage ? It can be summed up easily: Bouchard now openly advocates a “shift” in the Yes strategy to include the need for a partnership with the rest of Canada. Parizeau has never believed in his entire career that such a negotiation could bear fruit, that such an alliance could see the light of day.

“The sovereignist project must quickly take a turn which brings it closer to Quebecers and which opens up a credible way forward for new Quebec-Canada relations”, drops Bouchard in front of his activists. For the Bloc leader, we must “seriously consider” the advisability of framing the economic union between Quebec and Canada through “common institutions, even of a political nature”.

At the time, Parizeau, present in the room, seems satisfied. When, over the hours, Bouchard’s entourage insists on the importance of the “turn” imposed on Jacques Parizeau, nothing works.

From the following Monday, in a radio interview, Bouchard adds: Jacques Parizeau is the trustee of the sovereignist option, “he can decide everything on his own, but to win, you have to be together”, slice Bouchard.

In reaction, Parizeau “even foresees reconfiguring the referendum plan of attack without the presence of the Bloc Québécois”, recalls Councilor Jean-François Lisée, comments collected by Pierre Duchesne, in his essential biography of Mr. Parizeau. To calm things down, Parizeau’s advisers finally convinced him to accept the compromise of a common Parliament; hence the idea of ​​making Bouchard the “chief negotiator” to discuss with Canada.

Back at the Council of Ministers, on April 12, 1995, from the outset, Jacques Parizeau spoke behind closed doors in the Council of a “crisis which turned out to be very bad for the sovereignist option.” He believes that it is necessary to patch things up as quickly as possible and prepare the ground for the formation of a great sovereignist alliance, ”retains the senior official Michel Crevier, responsible for collecting the comments exchanged behind the closed doors of the Council at the time. .

The Deputy Prime Minister, Bernard Landry, “recalls that the Bloc Québécois was founded before Lucien Bouchard joined it” and that until now there has never been any friction between the two sovereignist parties. According to him, “Lucien Bouchard is a very charismatic leader … and the government of Quebec is not having a big game”. According to Jacques Brassard, then at the Environment, Bouchard delivered “an excellent speech which maintains the course on sovereignty”. For him, Jacques Parizeau should have reacted on the spot, which would have “defused” the situation. For the sovereignists, seeing their two leaders “in the cold is a painful ordeal”.

Who directs ?

According to Parizeau, “we can effectively discuss the question of who is leading the sovereignist movement. Guy Chevrette, responsible for the regions, observes, satisfied, that Bouchard “is in the process of rallying the softer federalists” to the sovereignist cause.

At the end of winter, Parizeau still hesitates as to when the referendum will be held. Her first choice was still spring; the consultation will not take place until October. On several occasions, meeting behind closed doors, during this feverish spring, the ministers noted Lucien Bouchard’s lack of interest in involving the Bloc Québécois in the regular meetings of the Yes Strategy Committee. At the beginning of April, Parizeau observed that the Bloc Québécois evoked more and more openly a “change of direction in the direction of the superstructures which exist in Brussels for the common market”.

For the Prime Minister, these overtures “bring the sovereignists back into an impossible situation”. For him, Bouchard only shared “moods” since it is clear that after such a mandate, as Canada refuses to negotiate, Quebec would find itself in a dead end.

One can imagine the silence in the room when Jacques Brassard intervenes. For him, there remains a significant proportion, ie 20% of the electorate, who hesitates between Quebec and Canadian identities. The sovereignist government must take this reality into account, “this is what the Bloc Québécois did, so it is not a bad thing to wonder whether, in fact, we should not share certain common institutions”.

Serge Ménard (Public Security) and Landry are also quite receptive to Bouchard’s idea. Louise Beaudoin (Canadian Intergovernmental Affairs) would later say that Parizeau was stuck. The Prime Minister and the leader of the Bloc had few hooks. “Jacques Parizeau knew very well that if there had been a real showdown [une confrontation], several of us would have joined that camp, ”she told biographer Pierre Duchesne.

But the formula of the “turn” and economic partnership is successful. At the board meeting on May 10, Jacques Parizeau noted that the PQ pollster, Michel Lepage, noted that a referendum question which proposed an economic association with English Canada would obtain the approval of 50.7% of respondents.

At the end of June, before the government suspended its activities for July – everyone had to come back for a campaign starting in August – Jacques Parizeau reports that an agreement was finally reached with Lucien Bouchard and Mario Dumont, the only elected representative of the ADQ then. They will frequently hold joint press conferences, he warns. Internal polls indicate “that it is necessary to use the term ‘partnership’ and that the term ‘union’ is preferable to that of association. We will therefore have to adapt our vocabulary accordingly ”.

“Now we have to work on the image,” Parizeau would have said. The impact of an agreement between the three leaders in favor of sovereignty is tangible, according to him. The Bloc Québécois had a survey done on the partnership proposal and found that 55.2% of the population would now be in favor.

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