Guest speaker at the congress of the Professional Federation of Journalists as a former member of the profession in December 1980, René Lévesque strongly criticized Quebec journalists for not defending the interests of Quebec, which he naturally assimilated to the sovereignist cause. , with the same ardor that their colleagues in English Canada used to preserve the unity of their country.
The referendum campaign of the previous spring had severely tested the duty of objectivity of those who were sympathetic to the Yes camp, as was my case. That of the fall of 1995 was going to be even more trying, even if my status as a daily columnist The sun gave me more leeway. From a strictly professional point of view, the creation of a sovereign state seemed like a great adventure, while a “no” would mean the return to the small scale of federal-provincial bickering.
It started off badly. Unlike what happened in 1980, the debate on the issue in the National Assembly was a disaster for the Yes. Badly presented by the Minister Delegate for Restructuring, Richard Le Hir, whose appointment to the Council of Ministers remained a mystery, the studies prepared by the Parizeau government to demonstrate the advantages of sovereignty had been burned down. Even equalization was not taken into account. What is more, it appeared that research contracts had been awarded to friends of Mr. Le Hir. The Liberals were pinching themselves to make sure they were not dreaming.
Not only were the polls discouraging, but Lucien Bouchard, who had always given the impression of having embarked on this galley unwillingly, walked a funeral and told anyone who wanted to hear that a victory of the No would not mean the end of the fight. The caravan of Yes rocked in a gloomy atmosphere. On the media bus, it was quickly declared that Jacques Parizeau “did not have it”. The repeated mechanical breakdowns further reinforced the impression that the campaign was placed under a bad star. When he got on the bus, Mario Dumont felt the need to denounce the defeatist feeling that reigned in the Yes camp.
The arrogant attitude of the No supporters bordered on provocation. The president of Standard Life, Claude Garcia, apologized for the virulence of the remarks he had made at the end of September to the general council of the PLQ, but the federalist camp seemed animated by the same desire not only to win, but to “crush” the adversary. By accusing business people who supported the No of “spitting in the soup,” Mr. Parizeau almost made the referendum look like a class struggle.
Like the 1,500 people gathered in the large amphitheater of the Université de Montréal on this afternoon of October 7, I was electrified by the appointment of Lucien Bouchard to the post of “chief negotiator” of Quebec after the victory of the Yes . “Nothing is over, everything begins …” he said. In vain did M. Parizeau’s assistants assure us that this sudden change of captain had been planned for a long time, it strangely resembled a putsch. Mr. Bouchard pointedly denied the “old campaign”, which indeed was going nowhere, but I could not help feeling sympathy for the Prime Minister, who had struggled for years to revive the sovereignist flame, while the other worked to bring Quebec back to the Canadian fold “in honor and enthusiasm” with his friend Brian Mulroney and defended federalism in Paris. Without Mr. Parizeau, there would not have been a referendum. However, if the yes wins, it will only be for the leader of the Bloc.
His appearance on the scene plunged the Yes caravan into euphoria. Politics is full of surprises, but I have never witnessed such a reversal in my 40 years of experience. The difference on the pitch was just as palpable. A week after the Bloc leader entered the scene, the Yes had joined the No in the polls. His almost miraculous resurrection at the start of the year had made Mr. Bouchard a true demigod. In Laval, where he was holding a meeting, a lady asked the policeman who was guarding his trailer if she could just touch his seat. It seemed to be covered with a thick layer of Teflon. Anyone else would have been pilloried for lamenting that “we are the white race that makes the fewest children.” The strategists of the No tried to redo the coup of the “Yvettes” of 1980, but there was nothing to be done. Even Françoise David found a way to excuse him.
The No Panic
Panic had visibly spread to the federalist camp. A colleague from Globe and Mail, who was covering the Yes tour, told me his newspaper had censored his article about this “bouchardmania.” Outside Quebec, we simply refused to see this unpleasant reality. Daniel Johnson, who looked very pale next to the new hero, did not know which way to turn. Suddenly, threats of corporate relocations and massive job losses seemed to be ineffective.
One Saturday morning in Longueuil, I asked him out of the blue if Jean Chrétien could do something to help him. To my surprise, he asked him to show openness to recognition of the uniqueness of Quebec. The only way he came to begging this Meech Lake Accord torpedo boat was that the situation was really dire. Equal to himself, Mr. Chrétien brutally closed the door.
The ” love in »Of Friday, October 27 took place at Canada Place, but I especially remembered that it took place in the shade of the Sun Life building which, at the time of its construction, claimed the title of largest building of the British Empire. The place seemed very appropriate to me. In 1978, its president, Thomas Galt, decided to move its headquarters to Toronto to protest against the passage of Bill 101. Hearing these tens of thousands of Canadians come from all over the country to shout their love for Quebec in English, we could imagine ourselves in the Queen City. Or in Montreal fifty years earlier.
The evening of 30
I arrived late at the Chez Gauthier restaurant on Parc Avenue for the traditional end-of-campaign dinner, to which journalists and Yes leaders were invited. Earlier, I was on the show Point, on Radio-Canada, where I ventured to predict “a small no”. At the restaurant, the mood was for victory and I had the unpleasant feeling of playing the “breakers of party “. I hoped the next few hours would prove me wrong.
At the Palais des congrès, where the Yes camp gathered to witness the unveiling of the results, I could not share the ambient optimism either. Very quickly, it appeared to me that the advance taken by the Yes in the regions was insufficient and would not resist the massive support that Montreal would give to the No. I was still a little surprised to see Bernard Landry appear on screen a good twenty minutes before the No took the lead and said to Bernard Derome: “I would be inclined to say: see you soon”. Obviously, he didn’t believe it either.
Lucien Bouchard did not take long to get back on his feet. Five days earlier, he had said at the Verdun arena: “There will be no moral victory, there will be a defeat or a victory. He was now saying, “Next time will be good.” Mr. Parizeau’s reaction was more difficult to predict. We could see him, in shadow, pacing in his box and the blow would certainly be difficult to take. He had often said that running a province did not interest him, but I did not believe in resigning. At the time, I did not appreciate the significance of his statement about ethnic votes. It only appeared to me when I left the Palais des congrès, when Jean-François Lisée asked me: “Do you think he can stay”
At the end of the evening, a few colleagues and I went to eat at L’Express. At the next table, writer Denise Boucher was in tears and much of Quebec with her. The next day, we would have to return to our offices in what was to remain a provincial capital. There would be no great adventure.