October 30, 1995 of eight actors of the referendum on sovereignty

They were at the heart of the action. As strategists or leaders in both camps. Twenty-five years after the referendum of October 30, 1995, Lucien Bouchard, Jean Charest and other key players today trace the thread of this historic day when Quebec chose to remain inside Canada.


1. The day before


Lucien Bouchard. In 1995, leader of the Bloc Québécois, the official opposition in Ottawa. Appointed Quebec’s chief negotiator for the post-referendum, he is the effective leader of the Yes campaign. Premier of Quebec from 1996 to 2001.

“We ended this campaign in a crescendo, in a sort of paroxysm. In Bonaventure, in the Magdalen Islands, it was incredible crowds everywhere. “

“On Sunday, we had an assembly on the South Shore, in the Montreal region. It was the first time that we [Jacques Parizeau et lui] had been on the same scene since appointing me chief negotiator. After the rally, Jean Royer [chef de cabinet de M. Parizeau] pulled me by the sleeve: “Mr. Bouchard, we have just received the latest polls: we are at 52-53%. ” It meant a victory… Michel Lepage’s polls were solid. There was no indulgence in encouraging anyone. Until then, I had been skeptical. But on Sunday night, I thought it was likely … “


John Parisella. In 1995, member of the coordination and organization committee of the No camp. Former Chief of Staff to Prime Minister Robert Bourassa and Quebec Delegate General in New York.

“In the 1994 elections, we [les libéraux de Daniel Johnson] felt like we had won the campaign, but we were ready to lose the vote. We knew it, but we were proud of our campaign. In the referendum, it was the other way around. We started 10 points ahead, and it was almost tied on the eve of the vote. So we said to ourselves that we had not won the campaign, but that we were going to win the referendum. It was that spirit that animated us at the end. “


Liza Frulla. In 1995, Liberal MP and vice-chair of the No. She was previously Minister of Culture.

“I had a phone call at midnight on Sunday from a friend in the Yes camp – Francine Joli-Coeur. She said to me, “I have a message. If ever the Yes wins, will you join us for the transition? ” Because I was identified as a nationalist among the liberals. But that’s when I realized it was very serious. Much more serious than I had thought. “


2. In the morning


Lucien Bouchard

“We went to vote in Alma. We chartered a plane and left with my little group. We were like in a sort of dream. We couldn’t quite grasp the significance of the moment, because we thought we were going to win. We weren’t sure, but we had some very realistic indications. […] And that’s what I had in mind in the morning. I was trying to understand the importance of the moment – which was truly historic for Quebec. And I was like overwhelmed by the historical importance of the moment, also telling myself that I would be a player in the future. “


Jean Charest. In 1995, leader of the Progressive Conservative Party. Vice-president of the No committee. Premier of Quebec from 2003 to 2012.

“In the morning there was this very strong emotion of worry, knowing that this day we were playing history. We knew it very well. We knew that it was the future of Quebec, of Canada, and our future personally that was at stake that day. Everything was on the table. They are rare, these moments. It was this feeling that I had in the morning. “


Lisette Lapointe. In 1995, wife of Prime Minister Jacques Parizeau. PQ member from 2007 to 2012.

“We certainly believed in it [à la victoire]. Me, I was very confident in the victory of the Yes. We knew it was tight, but it was clear that it was doable.


Pauline Marois. In 1995, president of the Conseil du trésor in the Parizeau government. Premier of Quebec from 2012 to 2014.

“In the months preceding the referendum, we had succeeded in uniting the sovereignist forces. […] The whole nationalist family was there and we had a remarkable campaign. When I woke up on October 30 in the morning, I was feverish, but confident: for the first time, the people of Quebec would trust each other enough to decide to take their destiny into their own hands. I imagined the force of mobilization and hope that this historic moment would create. “


Lucien Bouchard

“I’ve always been careful with the word ‘historical’. But that morning, I felt that, for the first time, Quebec and I were going to experience a historic moment. We knew that the entire international press was flocking to Montreal. […] Quebec would be at the center of the world that evening. “


John parisella

“I was with my committee colleagues at the morning meeting. I felt nervousness, yes. But I was basically confident we would win. I still had my conversations with Robert Bourassa, even though he was no longer in power. And we thought we always had the ballot box bonus: the polls undervalued us by at least two or three points – that would be even truer on a question of national unity. “


Gerald Larose. In 1995, president of the Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN) and member of the national Yes committee.

“On the morning of the 30th, I expected the ‘impossible dream’, which Quebec might achieve that same evening. “


Lucien Bouchard

“I was having trouble figuring out what that would mean [si le Oui l’emportait]. I was like a little frozen, overwhelmed by what was happening. And I was wondering: why are you here? So many people have fought harsher fights before: Papineau, Henri Bourassa, Lévesque, people who have gone very far. And we, are we going to live the outcome hoped for by these people? Will we be up to it? A thousand questions. And impossible to know what would happen after. I was worried about the reaction of the markets. “


Louise Beaudoin. In 1995, Minister of Canadian Intergovernmental Affairs, Culture and Communications. Member of the Priorities Committee and the Referendum Committee in the Parizeau government.

“We felt it would be very tight. I was on all the committees, I had spoken to the organizers of the national committee. And since I am a pessimist by nature, I was not convinced. The momentum was better a week earlier – before love-in [grand rassemblement des forces fédéralistes organisé le 27 octobre à Montréal, pour lequel des milliers de Canadiens avaient profité d’un transport gratuit pour affluer de partout au pays]. Those who think it didn’t work out, that’s wrong. I felt it on the pitch. When you are in the field, you see these things, the advances, the setbacks. The momentum that we had was broken. “


Gerald Larose

“There was no way it wasn’t tight. The federalists had put [illégalement] the package in the previous days. “


3. The day


Louise Beaudoin

“It was like election day. I walked around the polls in the riding [Chambly], to see how it went, to ensure our presence. “


Jean Charest

“In the morning, I met the organizers in Sherbrooke, in an office. The atmosphere was heavy, not like on election days, when people are enthusiastic, energetic. There was this feeling that the task at hand was very serious. “


John parisella

“At this point, we are really on the ground work. The bulk of our work [d’organisation] is complete. In the morning, we took a tour of the horizon. At that time, we had a “tactical intervention” group that was ready to answer questions. We had a meeting, but the campaign was done. It remained to “get the vote out”. “


Lucien Bouchard

“I had a feeling we were going to win, but there were hints that maybe not! At my constituency office, after voting, I met a citizen near the washroom. He told me he had just voted Yes. But… “I’m worried,” he told me. What will happen? That’s a big deal… ”And I said to myself: if an activist from Lac – Saint-Jean has to overcome major concerns and express them afterwards, there may be other places where it will not be. not as robust … […] I thought of the silent reflection behind the curtains. What will it be like? I knew we could lose feathers. Our story has not got us used to jumping without checking the pool water. “


Gerald Larose

“It was an almost ordinary day as president of the CSN. Among the first voters in the elementary school located just in front of the residence, I greeted people from the neighborhood who shared a broad smile with me. It started well! […] At noon, I had lunch in my office with my campaign advisory team. We had fun playing the prediction game. All were positive, but tight. […] I isolated myself to get some interpretation notes on the results for the media. At the end of the afternoon, return home, talk with the children, eat, and off to the Palais des congrès. “


Louise Beaudoin

“My memory is that it went quickly. It was going well. We had our score. The Yes people went out to vote, we imagined that we would get the result we wanted in Chambly. The wait hasn’t been that bad during the day. It was when we finally sat down to wait for the results that we felt a great tension. “


Pauline Marois

“Obviously, I felt feverish. The die was cast, everything was in place. It went without saying to make a few phone calls to encourage the activists, but they were so motivated and enthusiastic that I had no fear on that side. I was asked to introduce Mr. Parizeau when the results were known. His speech would follow that of Mario Dumont and Lucien Bouchard. I was mentally preparing myself to give the floor to the one who was to become the depositary of the mandate to achieve Quebec sovereignty. It makes you dizzy. “


Jean Charest

“I made calls to my office, then we had lunch with my father, Michele [Dionne, son épouse] and me. There was a CBC team following us. But the atmosphere was not at the party. […] Afterwards, we set sail for Montreal. At the hotel, I made calls to close people. But we didn’t have much to say to each other. They were rather short conversations, full of silences. It was a special day: I have never relived a day like this. “


Lucien Bouchard

“It has been an eventful day. It seems to me that we went to look for Mario Dumont [chef de l’Action démocratique du Québec et troisième leader du camp du Oui] in Rivière-du-Loup with the plane and that we returned together to Montreal. I had a speech to write. A single speech, of victory. And while I was writing it, I thought of Lévesque, I thought of those who had gone before us. Papineau. Chénier. It was heavy. Very moving. “


Lisette Lapointe

“When we say that 94% of Quebeckers went to vote, there was really a kind of euphoria. People felt that this was a fundamental moment, a decision that was going to make a real difference. “


4. Evening

Lisette Lapointe

“The first figures [ceux des Îles-de-la-Madeleine, avec près de 60 % d’appuis au Oui] were better than our survey specialists told us it took to win. At first, of course we thought: yes, it works! “


Louise Beaudoin

“They were good, the first results! You might have expected that, but it was better than you thought. It gave us hope, to say we’re going to get there. “


John parisella

“In the evening, I was on a panel on CBC. Before going to the studio, I spoke to the pollster [du Non] to ask him his feeling. He said, “It’s going to be tight, but I think we have a 51% chance of finishing.” So I left with the idea that we would win. But the first results came … At one point, during a break, I spoke to the head organizer to tell him that things were off to a bad start. He replied: “Don’t worry, our vote will come out strong in Montreal and the Outaouais, and I think we will have a nice surprise in Quebec.” “


Gerald Larose

“I am with my consulting team. There is a round of applause at the first results from the Islands, which are louder than expected. And then the results from other regions confirm us. I remember a euphoric first hour. “


Lucien Bouchard

“But there were the results from Quebec, and it was a cold shower [la Capitale-Nationale a voté Oui à environ 54 %]. Even today I do not understand it. It’s an enigma. But it started to slide, slide, and then there was a massive influx of votes from Montreal, and I saw that our margin was not high enough to compensate. “


Jean Charest

“When the first results came out, it rocked a bit. On our side, we tried to stay as rational as possible. And then, quickly, we realized that the Montreal vote had not come out, and we knew it was going to be played out ultimately in Montreal. But the fact remains that the anxiety never completely went away during the evening. “


Gerald Larose

“The results for the Quebec region are in, and we have seen the gap compared to the national average [au final, les francophones de Québec voteront Oui à 56 %, soit quatre points de moins que cette moyenne]. “


Pauline Marois

“Seeing the results in eastern Quebec, the Saguenay and the North Shore, I thought, yes, victory was within reach. But when the vote for the Capitale-Nationale region was communicated to us, we immediately understood that the carpet was slipping under our feet. The numbers weren’t there. Quebec, which could have become the capital of a country that would have enjoyed a very enviable international status, had lost its chance. The results were cascading. Doubt settled in me and I saw what was about to happen. “


Louise Beaudoin

“I started to worry seriously after the Quebec vote. I knew arriving in Montreal, beyond the east, it would be catastrophic. “


Lisette Lapointe

“There, we started to doubt. […] And I wondered what my husband was going to do if the No won the day – if he was going to resign that same evening, as he had so often told me and as he had even said in an interview with Stéphan Bureau [TVA] the same afternoon. “


Lucien Bouchard

“That evening, there were misunderstandings with Jacques Parizeau. We had, Mario Dumont and I, no communication with him. We learned that he recorded a victory speech in the afternoon, without telling us anything. We did not know what was going on, and especially how it would be with our interventions on stage after the announcement of the results. “


5. The verdict


Lucien Bouchard

“It was a cruel blow. We weren’t protected enough against defeat. I blamed myself for that afterwards. In the last few miles, I really believed in it. The disappointment was hard. […] I wrote a speech of defeat afterwards. Correct speech, but one that should not fly very high. But above all, we didn’t want to fly low… ”


John parisella

“I felt, clearly, relief when the victory was confirmed. I wasn’t stressed, because it’s my style of doing things – I’m an optimistic guy. But when that was confirmed, it cleared me. “


Pauline Marois

“The disappointment was commensurate with the great hopes that I shared with all the sovereignists. I knew I had to take the blow, but I refused to give up hope. I wondered how to conserve the immense energy of our militants to be able to resume our fight. “


Louise Beaudoin

“My deep feeling at the time was that I missed something. That the story – with a capital H – that we thought gave birth would not happen. It was the big thing of my life, I was 50 years old, I had spent all those years in the Parti Québécois. In 1980, we said to ourselves: “We’re going to get over it.” But in 1995, it was so tight, so possible, within reach … “


Gerald Larose

“I thought to myself, it’s over. We have proven ourselves that we can win. We have collectively raised the question of helplessness. You have to put it back quickly to win, and with a large gap. “


Jean Charest

“I went on stage to make my speech, with my two little flags of Quebec and Canada – at that point, I had clutched my passport, but I had my symbols! I make my speech, I step off the podium, and Michele says to me: “Very good speech, it’s just valuable that no one heard it. They cut you off on TV! ” Because Jean Chrétien spoke at the same time in Ottawa… Frankly, I was not happy! But it looks like it was a mess … “


Lucien Bouchard

“We make our speeches, Mario Dumont and I, and someone said: we clear the stage, we will not be with Jacques Parizeau [qui devait parler ensuite]. We had no idea what he was going to say… and we had no confidence in what he was going to say. […]


Jean Charest

“Those who were lucid, we understood very well that a result like this was not the end. Instinctively, we understood it. So I didn’t have that feeling of victory, of having won. Because we knew that people were divided, that we all came out bruised. And that the result was not decisive. Basically, it wasn’t a final score: it was the overtime announcement. “


6. The shock


Lucien Bouchard

“When I arrived in my suite after speaking – it took me a while to make the trip between the stage and the suite, with all these corridors and stairs – Mr. Parizeau was making his speech. My chief of staff [Gilbert Charland] turned to me and said, “We just saw a live political suicide.” “


Liza Frulla

“I was at Metropolis. I had to go on the air and I was told: “Wait, Parizeau will speak.” I sat down to listen. And there it comes out: “money and ethnic votes” … I had to react hot right after. I said something like, “To be prime minister is to be everybody’s prime minister. And now it’s clear that’s not it. ” “


Lucien Bouchard

“Everyone’s reaction: we had enough pain, we were already hurt enough. To have that extra … For once the planet was listening to us. It did not crown a remarkable campaign of fervor, solidarity, hope. “


Pauline Marois

“We have talked a lot about the unfortunate sentences of Mr. Parizeau. Mario Dumont and Lucien Bouchard had spoken words that did not close the door on the future. In presenting Jacques Parizeau, I had no idea what he was going to say, but I feared the worst. In the context of the cruel defeat we had just suffered, what he said was statistically absolutely correct. Our adversaries had just won by using means which did them no honor and which dishonored their cause. Jacques Parizeau was statistically right, but he had just made a serious mistake. “


John parisella

“I could have had an offended reaction. But it was the organizer in me who took over. When I heard that, I knew it would cause a big backlash in the sovereignist movement. It was evident. […] I got to know Mr. Parizeau better afterwards. And I never held a grudge against him. It’s a gap, which he regretted, although he never said it. “


Jean Charest

“It came as a little shock. We didn’t understand why he had said that. It was obviously going to mark the referendum. I did not understand. I found it regrettable, and sad for him. He had a pretty long journey that was going to end like this? It was a defeat, but he tied a bell after the referendum, he mortgaged the sovereignist movement. This statement came to strain the credibility of the movement with a large number of Quebecers. “


Lisette Lapointe

“After 25 years, can we finally stop blaming him for words he didn’t say and ascribing to him intentions he never had? He did not say “the” ethnic vote or “the” ethnic votes, but “the” ethnic votes, referring to official slogans that national leaders of ethnic communities gave to their citizens. “


Gerald Larose

“It was a huge distraction. […] His statement shocked me. Although sociologically correct, it was politically and strategically totally impertinent and in addition made us lose the momentum. “


Louise Beaudoin

“He knew very well that saying that made his presence as Prime Minister extremely difficult. But I think he did it knowingly. He was decided. There was no plan B for him. What he said, he probably meant. Of course it didn’t help for the rest … But I didn’t overwhelm him, because it was coming from within him. His determination was to win. We lose, we say what we think. “


Liza Frulla

“Me, in Quebec, I lived in the old apartment of René Lévesque, at the top of Joli-Cœur. And lots of people – Mr. Parizeau, Mr. Bouchard, Mr. Landry, came to see the Joli-Coeur. I was upstairs, going downstairs for a drink. That is to say that Mr. Parizeau, I adored him. So it stunned me that he said what he said. And it hurt me, because I knew him, and he’s a man I loved. “


7. The after


Lisette Lapointe

“After the speech, the bodyguard immediately escorted us back to the hotel. It was the night horribilis. The worst night of our life. Because there was this pain, this pain. “


Lucien Bouchard

“For me, it was the end of my political career. Audrey [Best, son épouse] said, “Are you coming back to us?” I said yes, I will end the session in Ottawa, I will announce that I will not be back for the winter, and I will be integrating the practice of law in Montreal. It was my decision. But the twists and turns continued … “


Pauline Marois

“When I went to bed that evening, I was wondering how to take the deal back, how to reframe what Jacques Parizeau had said so that we are in a position not to lose the balance of power that membership could have given us from half of Quebecers to sovereignty. The rest is history. “


Jean Charest

“Lucien Bouchard and I agree that the 1995 result was settled in the 1998 general election. The campaign had gone badly for me. I was arriving, and everything that pertained to Quebec politics was not familiar to me. It’s hard to admit, but that was it. However, midway through the campaign, I decided to put all the emphasis on one thing: no referendum. One theme. On election night, they win the majority of the seats, but we have the plurality of votes. And that was the last chapter of 1995. I think Lucien Bouchard understood that evening that there would not be a third referendum. “


Testimonials collected and edited by Guillaume Bourgault-Côté; photos by Jacques Nadeau Le Devoir and The Canadian Press archives; illustrations by Marin Blanc.

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