October 30, 2020 marks the 25e anniversary of the second referendum on the constitutional future of Quebec. In 1995, I was the Member of Parliament for the riding of Hochelaga in the House of Commons. I remember the optimism that drove the sovereignist movement.
In fact, all hopes were high, the 1995 referendum followed the victories that the election of the Bloc Québécois in Ottawa ushered in as the cycle of potential national emancipation. It will be recalled that in the 1993 federal election, the Bloc Québécois obtained 49% of the vote and elected 54 members, thus ensuring it the status of official opposition to the Commons.
No less noteworthy, the Parti Québécois was called upon to form the government on September 12, 1994, with 77 elected against 47 Liberal MPs. In addition to a solid sovereignist deputation in Ottawa and Quebec, three other reasons for celebration contributed to the sovereignists’ confidence in the victory of their option. First, during the referendum campaign, both the Bloc and the Parti Québécois were close to 50% in voting intentions. In addition, Lucien Bouchard, leader of the Bloc Québécois, was by far the most popular and charismatic of all political leaders. Finally, the sovereignty-partnership garnered a majority of support during the five months preceding the referendum (Yes, 53%, No, 47%).
We could also add to this concert of good news, what the sovereignist polls revealed and that the work of professors Gilles Gagné and Simon Langlois highlighted, the socio-electoral group which had historically carried the sovereignist project, that is to say people aged 18 at 55, francophones, active in the labor market, with income enabling them to rise above the universe of needs, was very mobilized in favor of sovereignty-partnership.
In such a context, I was convinced, like many sovereignists, that the conditions were in place to win the 1995 referendum and make Quebec a country.
The optimism of the sovereignists would come up against the wall erected by the No camp, a wall whose base was to be cemented by illegality, fraud and the instrumentalization of the vote of cultural communities, with millions of dollars as a backdrop. from the federal treasury.
It is useful to remember that when the referendum campaign was launched, the 1er September 1995, this important democratic exercise was framed by the special version of the Election Law for the holding of a referendum.
For the record, this same law authorized the Yes and No camps to spend 5 million under the supervision of their respective official agents, who were to report to the Chief Electoral Officer of Quebec.
However, when I was a member of Parliament in Ottawa, I asked the researchers of the Library of Parliament to analyze the books of the estimates and to keep track of the sums of money spent by Ottawa during the referendum campaign of 1995.
The research we have done tells us two things. First, the spending by Ottawa during the entire referendum period is $ 18.5 million.
Of this amount, Option Canada and the Council for Canadian Unity spent $ 11 million in favor of the No option before and during the 1995 referendum campaign. These funds came from Heritage Canada and were used for the purchase. advertising, conducting surveys, organizing events and printing documents. Me Bernard Grenier, who investigated federal spending in the 1995 referendum, concluded that $ 539,000 was spent illegally by the No camp.
Second, another amount was spent by Ottawa during the referendum campaign, namely $ 12.5 million, to promote official languages, revalorize the Canadian identity and fund activities related to advertising and research on the subject. ‘public opinion.
In short, the government of Jean Chrétien used $ 31 million of public funds to counter the Yes option, six times more than the amount authorized by law.
Also in 1995, I was the Bloc’s citizenship and immigration critic. […] In four weeks, in October 1995, Ottawa naturalized 11,429 people, or a quarter of all naturalizations for the year, a 250% jump from the previous month. October 1995 is the month of the Quebec referendum, isn’t that an example of the use of immigration for highly partisan purposes? In front of these figures which come from the government of Jean Chrétien, cannot we not lucidly recognize that Jacques Parizeau was right when it comes to referendum democracy, insofar as we induced in the electoral body of Quebec thousands of people who did not would not have had the right to vote following the normal course of events?
Also, I will end by making two propositions at this time when it is important to collectively remember the events of October 1995:
That the National Assembly ask Ottawa to apologize for the irregularities the federal government committed during the October 1995 referendum campaign;
That the government of Quebec set up a council to protect and supervise the Popular Consultation Act. The mandate of this organization would be to denounce all offenses committed by Ottawa, or a third party, during a referendum campaign, through advertisements in print, digital and television media. This council would be made up of all living prime ministers and opposition leaders who are no longer in office and who have held that office in the National Assembly.