Quebec Sovereignty

The Quebec sovereignty movement (French: Mouvement souverainiste du Québec) is a political movement as well as an ideology of values, concepts and ideas that advocate the independence of the province of Quebec from the rest of Canada.

Most groups within this movement seek to gain independence through peaceful means, using negotiation-based diplomatic intervention, although fringe groups have on occasion advocated violent means. The primary political vehicle for the movement is the Parti Québécois, which has governed Quebec on multiple occasions. In 2012 it was elected to a minority government, in which its leader, Pauline Marois, became the first female Premier of Quebec.[1][2]


In practice, "separatist" and "sovereignist" are terms used to describe individuals wanting the province of Quebec to separate from Canada to become a country of its own; supporters of the movement generally prefer the latter term.

Reasons for sovereignty

Justifications for Quebec's sovereignty include its unique culture and French-speaking majority (80%).[3][4] Eight of the other Canadian provinces are overwhelmingly (greater than 90%) English-speaking, while New Brunswick is officially bilingual and about one-third Francophone. Another rationale is based on resentment of anti-Quebec sentiment.[5] With regard to the creation of the sovereignist movement, language issues were but a sub-stratum of larger cultural, social and political differences. Many scholars point to historical events as framing the cause for ongoing support for sovereignty in Quebec, while more contemporary politicians may point to the aftermath of more recent developments like the Canada Act of 1982, the Meech Lake Accord or the Charlottetown Accord.



Tension between the francophone, Catholic population of Quebec and the largely anglophone, Protestant population of the rest of Canada has been a central theme of Canadian history, shaping the early territorial and cultural divisions of the country that persist to this day.[6] Supporters of sovereignty for Quebec believe that the current relationship between Quebec and the rest of Canada does not reflect Quebec's best social, political and economic development interests. Moreover, many subscribe to the notion that without appropriately recognizing that the people of Quebec are culturally distinct, Quebec will remain chronically disadvantaged in favour of the English-Canadian majority. There is also the question of whether the French language can survive within the geographic boundaries of Quebec and where French-Canadian society and culture fits into what is an increasingly multicultural country. Separatists and Independentists are generally opposed to some aspects of the federal system in Canada and do not believe it can be reformed in a way that could satisfy the needs of Quebec's French-speaking majority. A key component in the argument in favour of overt political independence is that new legislation and a new system of governance could best secure the future development of modern Québécois culture. Additionally, there is wide-ranging debate about defence, monetary policy, currency, international-trade and relations after independence and whether a renewed federalism would give political recognition to the Quebec nation (along with the other 'founding' peoples, including Canadian First Nations, the Inuit, and the British) could satisfy the historic disparities between these cultural "nations" and create a more cohesive and egalitarian Canada.

Several attempts at reforming the federal system in Canada have thus far failed because of, particularly, the conflicting interests between Quebec's representatives and the other provincial governments' representatives. There is also a degree of resistance throughout Quebec and the rest of Canada to re-opening a constitutional debate, in part because of the nature of these failures—not all of which were the result simply of sovereignists and federalists not getting along. To cite one case, in a recent round of constitutional reform, Elijah Harper, an aboriginal leader from Manitoba, was able to prevent ratification of the agreement in the provincial legislature, arguing that the accord did not address the interests of Canada's aboriginal population. This was a move to recognize that other provinces represent distinct cultural entities, such as the aboriginal population in Canada's Prairies or the people of Newfoundland (which contains significant and culturally distinct French-Canadian, English-Canadian, Irish-Canadian and Aboriginal cultures- and many more).

Contemporary politics

Perhaps the most significant basis of support for Quebec's sovereignty movement lies in more recent political events. For practical purposes, many political pundits use the political career and efforts of René Lévesque as a marker for the beginnings of what is now considered the contemporary movement, although more broadly accepted consensus appears on the contemporary movement finding its origins in a period called the Quiet Revolution.

René Lévesque, architect of the first referendum on sovereignty, claimed a willingness to work for change in the Canadian framework after the federalist victory in the referendum of 1980. This approach was dubbed le beau risque ("the beautiful risk"), and it led to many ministers of the Lévesque's government to resign in protest. The 1982 patriation of the Canadian Constitution did not solve the issue in the point of view of the majority of sovereignists. The constitutional amendment of 1982 was agreed to by representatives from 9 of the 10 provinces (with René Lévesque abstaining). Although it has not been ratified by the Province of Quebec, the constitution applies to all citizens of Canada and is integral to the political and legal systems used in Quebec. See patriation for further details.

There are numerous possible reasons the 'Yes' campaign went down to defeat. The economy of Quebec suffered measurably following the election of the sovereignist Parti Québécois and continued to during the course of the campaign. The Canadian dollar lost much of its value and, during coverage of the dollar's recovery against U.S. currency, there were repeated citations of the referendum and political instability caused by it cited as cause for the fall. Some suggest there were promises of constitutional reform to address outstanding political issues between the province and the federal government both before and since without any sign of particularly greater expectation those promises would be filled to any greater or lesser degree. There remains no conclusive evidence that the sovereignty movement derives significant support today because of anything that was promised back in the 1970s.

Proponents of the sovereignty movement sometimes suggest that many people in Quebec feel "bad" for believing the constitutional promises that the federal government and Pierre Trudeau made just before the 1980 Quebec referendum.[7] The constitutional reform promises made by Trudeau and the federal government were not delivered on paper or agreed upon in principle by the federal government or the other provincial governments. But one conclusion that appears to be universal is that one event in particular – dubbed "the night of the long knives" – energized the sovereignist movement during the 1980s. This event involved a "back-room" deal, struck between Trudeau, representing the federal government, and all of the other provinces, save Quebec. It was here that Trudeau was able to gain agreement on the content of the constitutional amendment, while the separatist premier René Lévesque was simply left out. And it may well be that a certain number of Quebecers did and may even now feel "bad" both about the nature of that deal and how Trudeau (a Quebecer himself) went about reaching it.

Regardless of Quebec government's refusal to approve the 1982 constitutional amendment because the promised reforms were not implemented, the amendment went into effect. To many in Quebec, the 1982 constitutional amendment without Quebec's approval is still viewed as a historic political wound. The debate still occasionally rages within the province about the best way to heal the rift – and the sovereignty movement certainly derives some degree of support from a belief that healing should take the form of separation from Canada.

"I also criticized the unilateral repatriation of 1982, concluding that 'even in their moments of greatest mistrust, the Québécois never imagined that the pact of 1867 could ever be changed without their consent. Hence the impression they had in 1982 of a breach of trust, of a violation of the national bond's integrity. The descendants of George-Étienne Cartier did not expect this from the descendants of John A. Macdonald. Perceived as trickery in Quebec, the repatriation of 1982 has placed a time bomb in the political dynamics of this country". (p. 224, On the Record, Lucien Bouchard, former leader of the sovereignist federal political party, the Bloc Québécois.)

The failure of the Meech Lake Accord — an abortive attempt to redress the constitutional problems brought on by the adoption of the 1982 amendment without the Quebec government's approval — strengthened the conviction of most sovereignist politicians and led many federalist ones to place little hope in the prospect of a federal constitutional reform that would satisfy Quebec's purported historical demands (according to proponents of the sovereignty movement). These include a constitutional recognition that Quebecers constitute a distinct society, as well as a larger degree of independence of the province towards federal policy.

"In Montreal, June 25, I walked along rue Sherbrooke to Olympic Stadium, submerged in the immense river of white and blue that seemed unstoppable on its march to sovereignty. Three days earlier, Bourassa, former minister of federalism, had hurriedly changed his tune: 'English Canada must understand that... Quebec is, today and forever, a distinct society, free and able to assume its destiny and its development.'" (p. 251, 'On the Record', Lucien Bouchard)

The contemporary sovereignty movement is thought to have originated from the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s, although the desire for an independent or autonomous French-Canadian state has periodically arisen throughout Quebec's history, notably during the 1837 Lower Canada Rebellion. Part of Quebec's continued historical desire for sovereignty is caused by Quebecers' perception of a singular English-speaking voice and identity that is dominant within the parameters of Canadian identity, with no incorporation of the Francophone identity. (This is a point contested in other parts of Canada – particularly in places like Manitoba which has a significant French-speaking population, and where in the 1990s that population tried to assert francophone language rights in schools. The separatist Parti Québécois-led government of Quebec offered up comment actually taking the side of the Manitoba government, which was opposing granting those rights. Speculation persists that the Quebec government opposed this assertion of francophone identity outside of the province because of the impact it would have on the assertion of anglophone language rights within its own borders.)

For a majority of Quebec politicians, whether sovereignist or not, the problem of Quebec's political status is considered unresolved to this day. Although Quebec independence is a political question, cultural concerns are also at the root of the desire for independence. The central cultural argument of the sovereignists is that only sovereignty can adequately ensure the survival of the French language in North America, allowing Quebecers to establish their nationality, preserve their cultural identity, and keep their collective memory alive (see Language demographics of Quebec).

"At the same time, a brutal gesture by the Saskatchewan legislature brought the first language crises to my doorstep. The legislature precipitously abrogated the only law guaranteeing linguistic rights to the French population. It was revenge for a recent Supreme Court decision that had confirmed the constraining power of the law requiring all provincial laws to be available in French. To avoid having to translate all their laws, Grant Devine's government moved to repeal the act. The French community reacted with indignation and asked for federal intervention". (p. 186, On the Record, Lucien Bouchard)

Legal and constitutional issues

It has been argued by Jeremy Webber and Robert Andrew Young that, as the office is the core of authority in the province, the secession of Quebec from Confederation would first require the abolition or transformation of the post of Lieutenant Governor of Quebec; such an amendment to the constitution of Canada could not be done without, according to Section 41 of the Constitution Act, 1982, the approval of the federal parliament and all other provincial legislatures in Canada.[8] Others, such as J. Woehrling, however, have claimed that the legislative process towards Quebec's independence would not require any prior change to the viceregal post.[9] Young also felt that the lieutenant governor could refuse Royal Assent to a bill that proposed to put an unclear question on sovereignty to referendum or was based on the results of a referendum that asked such a question.[10]

Arguments against sovereignty

In a series of letters throughout the 1990s, Stéphane Dion (the federal Intergovernmental Affairs Minister at the time) laid out an argument against sovereignty.

It has also been argued by prominent Quebecers (sovereignists and ex-sovereignists, including former Quebec premier Lucien Bouchard) that sovereignty politics has distracted Quebecers from the real economic problems of Quebec, and that sovereignty by itself cannot solve those problems. In 2005 they published their position statement, "Pour un Québec lucide", ("For a clear vision of Quebec") which details the problems facing Quebec.[11]

Many federalists oppose the Quebec sovereignty movement for economic and political reasons but many also oppose sovereignty on other grounds. For example, since the 1995 referendum, in regards to the declaration of Jacques Parizeau who blamed the loss on "money and the ethnic vote", many federalists considered the sovereignty movement as an expression of ethnic nationalism.

There has also been a host of arguments against sovereignty which claim that the movement ignores the fact that Quebec is, in its very essence, a state largely made up of multi-generational immigrants - and as such, a claim to state sovereignty ignores that First Nations existed with their own social orders and economies prior to the creation of Quebec, and claim that since the colonial era Francophone governments, as a part of assimilation and colonization, have at times chosen to strategically ignore, suppress, include, or appropriate the desires, cultures, and struggles of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people in order to advance a eurocentric version of sovereignty.[12] The sentiment is summed up by a quotation from a Mohawk from Akwsasne: "How can Quebec, with no economic base and no land base, ask to become sovereign? How can Quebec be a nation when they have no constitution? We have had a constitution since before the American revolution." Here the argument expresses the claim that the Mohawk nation has a more legitimate claim to distinct nationhood on the basis of traditional lands and a constitution predating confederation (and the creation of Quebec and a Québécois identity) and thus should be afforded the right of self-determination.[13]

Similarly, the Cree have also asserted for many years that they are a separate people with the right to self-determination recognized under international law. They argue that no annexation of them or their territory to an independent Quebec should take place without their consent, and that if Quebec has the right to leave Canada then the Cree people have the right to choose to keep their territory in Canada. Cree arguments generally do not claim the right to secede from Canada; rather, the Cree see themselves as a people bound to Canada by treaty (see the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement), and as citizens of Canada.[14]

The Cree have stated that a unilateral declaration of independence by Quebec would be a violation of fundamental principles of human rights, democracy and consent. If secession were to proceed, the Crees argue they would seek protection through the Canadian courts as well as asserting Cree jurisdiction over its people and lands.[14]

Professor Peter Russell has said, "(Aboriginal peoples) are not nations that can be yanked out of Canada against their will by a provincial majority.... With few exceptions (they) wish to enjoy their right to self-government within Canada, not within a sovereign Quebec."[15] International human rights expert Erica-Irene Daes says the change "will leave the most marginalized and excluded of all the world's peoples without a legal, peaceful weapon to press for genuine democracy...."[15] This concern is connected to the claim that if Quebec were to be considered its own autonomous nation-state then it need not honour the treaties and agreements that were formed between Aboriginal peoples and the British and French monarchies and is now maintained by the federal Canadian government.[16] Concern for this may stem from perception of neo-colonial or eurocentric attitudes in the leadership of former premiers, such as Robert Bourassa and self-proclaimed "Conqueror of the North".[17]


The history of the relations between French and British descendants in Canada is one filled with a lot of rocky moments. After discovering Canada and establishing some outposts and cities, France lost it to Great Britain. After the Seven Years' War ended in 1763, France abandoned claims on Canada (except for the two small islands of Saint Pierre and Miquelon) and Great Britain gave the West Indies islands of Guadeloupe, Martinique and some others back to France in the Treaty of Paris, at which time France limited its activities to parts of North America south of present-day Canada.

From that point on, at different moments in Canada's history, some leaders and groups have risen to claim authority. The use of the word "sovereignty" and many of the ideas of this movement originated in the 1967 Mouvement Souveraineté-Association of René Lévesque. This movement ultimately gave birth to the Parti Québécois in 1968.

Sovereignty-association (French: Souveraineté-Association) is the combination of two concepts:

  1. The achievement of sovereignty for the Quebec state.
  2. The creation of a political and economic association between this new independent state and Canada.

It was first presented in Lévesque's political manifesto, Option Québec.

The Parti Québécois defines sovereignty as the power for a state to levy all its taxes, vote on all its laws, and sign all its treaties (as mentioned in the 1980 referendum question).

The type of association between an independent Quebec and the rest of Canada was described as a monetary and customs union as well as joint political institutions to administer the relations between the two countries. The main inspiration for this project was the then-emerging European Community.

The hyphen between the words "sovereignty" and "association" was often stressed by Lévesque and other PQ members, to make it clear that both were inseparable. The reason stated was that if Canada decided to boycott Quebec exports after voting for independence, the new country would have to go through difficult economic times, as the barriers to trade between Canada and the United States were then very high. Quebec would have been a nation of 7 million people stuck between two impenetrable protectionist countries. In the event of having to compete against Quebec, rather than support it, Canada could easily maintain its well-established links with the United States to prosper in foreign trade.

Sovereignty-association as originally proposed would have meant that Quebec would become a politically independent state, but would maintain a formal association with Canada — especially regarding economic affairs. It was part of the 1976 sovereignist platform which swept the Parti Québécois into power in that year's provincial elections – and included a promise to hold a referendum on sovereignty-association. René Lévesque developed the idea of sovereignty-association to reduce the fear that an independent Quebec would face tough economic times. In fact, this proposal did result in an increase in support for a sovereign Quebec: polls at the time showed that people were more likely to support independence if Quebec maintained an economic partnership with Canada. This line of politics led the out-spoken Yvon Deschamps to proclaim that what Quebecers want is an independent Quebec inside a strong Canada, thereby comparing the sovereignist movement to a spoiled child that has everything it could desire and still wants more.

In 1979 the PQ began an aggressive effort to promote sovereignty-association by providing details of how the economic relations with the rest of Canada would include free trade between Canada and Quebec, common tariffs against imports, and a common currency. In addition, joint political institutions would be established to administer these economic arrangements. But the sovereignist cause was hurt as many politicians (most notably the premiers of several of the other provinces) publicly refused to negotiate an economic association with an independent Quebec, contributing to the Yes side losing by a vote of 60 percent to 40 percent.

This loss laid the groundwork for the 1995 referendum, which stated that Quebec should offer a new economic and political partnership to Canada before declaring independence. An English translation of part of the Sovereignty Bill reads, "We, the people of Quebec, declare it our own will to be in full possession of all the powers of a state; to levy all our taxes, to vote on all our laws, to sign all our treaties and to exercise the highest power of all, conceiving, and controlling, by ourselves, our fundamental law."

This time, the sovereignists lost in a very close vote: 50.6 percent to 49.4 percent, or only 53,498 votes out of more than 4,700,000 votes cast. However, after the vote many within the sovereignist camp were very upset that the vote broke down heavily along language lines. Approximately 90 percent of English speakers and allophones (mostly immigrants and first-generations Quebecers whose native language is neither French or English) Quebecers voted against the referendum, while almost 60 percent of Francophones voted Yes, and 82 percent of Quebecers are French-speaking. Quebec premier Jacques Parizeau, whose government supported sovereignty, attributed the defeat of the resolution to money and the ethnic vote. His opinion caused an outcry among English speaking Quebecers, since it exposed the ethnocentric perspective of the leader, who focused blame for the defeat on minority communities as if to discount the influence of 40% of Francophones who voted no.

An inquiry by Le directeur général des élections concluded in 2007 that at least $500,000 was spent by the federalist camp in violation of Quebec's election laws. This law imposes a limit on campaign spending by both option camps. Parizeau's statement was also an admission of failure by the Yes camp in getting the newly arrived Quebecers to adhere to their political option.

Accusations of an orchestrated effort of 'election engineering' in several polling stations located in areas with large numbers of non-francophone voters, which resulted in unusually large proportions of rejected ballots, were raised following the 1995 referendum. Afterward, testimony by PQ-appointed polling clerks indicated that they were ordered by PQ-appointed overseers to reject ballots in these polling stations for frivolous reasons that were not covered in the election laws.

While opponents of sovereignty were pleased with the defeat of the referendum, most recognized[examples needed] that there were still deep divides within Quebec and problems with the relationship between Quebec and the rest of the country.


Precursor ideas and events

Further information: Quebec nationalism

Sovereigntism and sovereignty are terms that refer to the modern movement in favour of the political independence of Quebec. However, the roots of Quebec's desire for self-determination can be traced back as far as the Patriotes Rebellion, the Alliance Laurentienne of 1957, the writings of Lionel Groulx in the 1920s, the Francoeur Motion of 1917, and Honoré Mercier's flirtation with this idea (especially in his historic speech of 1893.)


The Quiet Revolution in Quebec brought widespread change in the 1960s. Among other changes, support for Quebec independence began to form and grow in some circles. The first organization dedicated to the independence of Quebec was the Alliance Laurentienne, founded by Raymond Barbeau on January 25, 1957.

On September 10, 1960, the Rassemblement pour l'indépendance nationale (RIN) was founded, with Pierre Bourgault quickly becoming its leader. On August 9 of the same year, the Action socialiste pour l'indépendance du Québec (ASIQ) was formed by Raoul Roy. The "independence + socialism" project of the ASIQ was a source of political ideas for the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ).

On October 31, 1962, the Comité de libération nationale and, in November of the same year, the Réseau de résistance were set up. These two groups were formed by RIN members to organize non-violent but illegal actions, such as vandalism and civil disobedience. The most extremist individuals of these groups left to form the FLQ, which, unlike all the other groups, had made the decision to resort to violence in order to reach its goal of independence for Quebec. Shortly after the November 14, 1962, Quebec general election, RIN member Marcel Chaput founded the short-lived Parti républicain du Québec.

In February 1963, the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ) was founded by three Rassemblement pour l'indépendance nationale members who had met each other as part of the Réseau de résistance. They were Georges Schoeters, Raymond Villeneuve, and Gabriel Hudon.

In 1964, the RIN became a provincial political party. In 1965, the more conservative Ralliement national (RN) also became a party.

The historical context of the time was a period when many former European colonies, such as Cameroon, Congo, Senegal, Algeria, and Jamaica, were becoming independent. Some advocates of Quebec independence saw Quebec's situation in a similar light; numerous activists were influenced by the writings of Frantz Fanon, Albert Memmi, and Karl Marx.

In June 1967, French president Charles de Gaulle, who had granted independence to Algeria, shouted Vive le Québec libre! during a speech from the balcony of Montreal's city hall during a state visit to Canada. In doing so, he deeply offended the federal government, and English Canadians felt he had demonstrated contempt for the sacrifice of Canadian soldiers who died on the battlefields of France in two world wars. The visit was cut short and de Gaulle left the country.

Finally, in October 1967, former Liberal cabinet minister René Lévesque left that party when it refused to discuss sovereignty at a party convention. Lévesque formed the Mouvement souveraineté-association and set about uniting pro-sovereignty forces.

He achieved that goal in October 1968 when the MSA held its only national congress in Quebec City. The RN and MSA agreed to merge to form the Parti Québécois (PQ), and later that month Pierre Bourgault, leader of the RIN, dissolved his party and invited its members to join the PQ.

Meanwhile, in 1969 the FLQ stepped up its campaign of violence, which would culminate in what would become known as the October Crisis. The group claimed responsibility for the bombing of the Montreal Stock Exchange, and in 1970 the FLQ kidnapped British Trade Commissioner James Cross and Quebec Labour Minister Pierre Laporte; Laporte was later found murdered.

The early years of the Parti Québécois

Jacques Parizeau joined the party on September 19, 1969, and Jérôme Proulx of the Union Nationale joined on November 11 of the same year.

In the 1970 provincial election, the PQ won its first seven seats in the National Assembly. René Lévesque was defeated in Mont-Royal by the Liberal André Marchand.

The referendum of 1980

In the 1976 election, the PQ won 71 seats — a majority in the National Assembly. With voting turnouts high, 41.4 percent of the electorate voted for the PQ. Prior to the election, the PQ renounced its intention to implement sovereignty-association if it won power.[18]

On August 26, 1977, the PQ passed two main laws: first, the law on the financing of political parties, which prohibits contributions by corporations and unions and set a limit on individual donations, and second, the Charter of the French Language.

On May 17 PQ Member of the National Assembly Robert Burns resigned, telling the press he was convinced that the PQ was going to lose its referendum and fail to be re-elected afterwards.

At its seventh national convention from June 1 to 3, 1979, the sovereignist adopted their strategy for the coming referendum. The PQ then began an aggressive effort to promote sovereignty-association by providing details of how the economic relations with the rest of Canada would include free trade between Canada and Quebec, common tariffs against imports, and a common currency. In addition, joint political institutions would be established to administer these economic arrangements.

Sovereignty-association was proposed to the population of Quebec in the 1980 Quebec referendum. The proposal was rejected by 60 percent of the Quebec electorate.

In September, the PQ created a national committee of Anglophones and a liaison committee with ethnic minorities.

The PQ was returned to power in the 1981 election with a stronger majority than in 1976, obtaining 49.2 per cent of the vote and winning 80 seats. However, they did not hold a referendum in their second term, and put sovereignty on hold, concentrating on their stated goal of "good government".

René Lévesque retired in 1985 (and died in 1987). In the 1985 election under his successor Pierre-Marc Johnson, the PQ was defeated by the Liberal Party.

Repatriation, Meech Lake, Charlottetown

The economic "association" part of the Sovereignty-Association concept was in some ways a forerunner of the later Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement of 1987 and the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The referendum of 1995

The PQ returned to power in the 1994 election under Jacques Parizeau, this time with 44.75% of the popular vote. In the intervening years, the failures of the Meech Lake Accord and Charlottetown Accord had revived support for sovereignty, which had been written off as a dead issue for much of the 1980s.

Another consequence of the failure of the Meech Lake Accord was the formation of the Bloc Québécois (BQ), a sovereignist federal political party, under the leadership of the charismatic former Progressive Conservative federal cabinet minister Lucien Bouchard. Several PC and Liberal members of the federal parliament left their parties to form the BQ. For the first time, the PQ supported pro-sovereigntist forces running in federal elections; during his lifetime Lévesque had always opposed such a move.

The Union Populaire had nominated candidates in the 1979 and 1980 federal elections, and the Parti nationaliste du Québec had nominated candidates in the 1984 election, but neither of these parties enjoyed the official support of the PQ; nor did they enjoy significant public support among Quebecers.

In the 1993 federal election, which featured the collapse of Progressive Conservative Party support, the BQ won enough seats in Parliament to become Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition in the House of Commons.

At the Royal Commission on the Future of Quebec (also known as the Outaouais Commission) in 1995, the Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada made a presentation in which the party leader, Hardial Bains, recommended to the committee that Quebec declare itself as an independent republic.[19]

Parizeau promptly advised the Lieutenant Governor to call a new referendum. The 1995 referendum question differed from the 1980 question in that the negotiation of an association with Canada was now optional. The open-ended wording of the question resulted in significant confusion, particularly amongst the 'Yes' side, as to what exactly they were voting for. This was a primary motivator for the creation of the 'Clarity Act' (see below).

The "No" camp again won, but only by a very small margin — 50.6% to 49.4%.[20] As in the previous referendum, the English-speaking (anglophone) minority in Quebec overwhelmingly (about 90%) rejected sovereignty, support for sovereignty was also weak among allophones (native speakers of neither English nor French) in immigrant communities and first-generation descendants. The lowest support for Yes side came from Mohawk, Cree and Inuit voters in Quebec, some first Nations chiefs asserted their right to self-determination with the Cree being particularly vocal in their right to stay territories within Canada. More than 96% of the Inuit and Cree voted No in the referendum. However, The Innu, Attikamek, Algonquin and Abenaki nations did partially support Quebec sovereignty. In 1985, 59 per cent of Quebec's Inuit population, 56 per cent of the Attikamek population and 49 per cent of the Montagnais population voted in favour of the Sovereignist Parti Québécois party. That year, three out of every four native reservations gave a majority to the Parti Québécois party.[21]

By contrast almost 60 percent of francophones of all origins voted "Yes". (82 per cent of Quebecers are Francophone.) Later inquiries into irregularities determined that abuses had occurred on both sides: some argue that some "No" ballots had been rejected without valid reasons, and the October 27 "No" rally had evaded spending limitations because of out-of-province participation.[22] An inquiry by "Le Directeur général des élections" concluded in 2007 that the "No" camp had exceeded the campaign spending limits by $500,000.

At the end of the 20th century

Quebec general election, 1998

The Parti Québécois won re-election in the 1998 election despite losing the popular vote to Jean Charest and the Quebec Liberals. In the number of seats won by both sides, the election was almost a clone of the previous 1994 election. However, public support for sovereignty remained too low for the PQ to consider holding a second referendum during their second term. Meanwhile, the federal government passed the Clarity Act to govern the wording of any future referendum questions and the conditions under which a vote for sovereignty would be recognized as legitimate. Federal liberal politicians stated that the ambiguous wording of the 1995 referendum question was the primary impetus in the bill's drafting.

While opponents of sovereignty were pleased with their referendum victories, most recognized that there are still deep divides within Quebec and problems with the relationship between Quebec and the rest of Canada.

The Clarity Act, 1999

In 1999, the Parliament of Canada, at the urging of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, passed the Clarity Act, a law that, amongst other things, set out the conditions under which the Crown-in-Council would recognize a vote by any province to leave Canada. It required a majority of eligible voters for a vote to trigger secession talks, not merely a plurality of votes. In addition the act requires a clear question of secession to initiate secession talks. Controversially, the act gave the House of Commons the power to decide whether a proposed referendum question was considered clear, and allowed it to decide whether a clear majority has expressed itself in any referendum. It is widely considered by sovereignists as an illegitimate piece of legislation, who asserted that Quebec alone had the right to determine its terms of secession. However the Supreme Court of Canada disagreed when the matter was referred to that body, ruling that the Act is constitutional and, just as Canada is divisible, so is Quebec, a ruling that has significant implications for linguistic and ethnic minorities within Quebec, the bulk of whom have traditionally opposed secession. Chrétien considered the legislation among his most significant accomplishments.



"Sovereignty-Association" is nowadays more often referred to simply as "sovereignty". However, in the 1995 Quebec referendum, in which the sovereignty option was narrowly rejected, the notion of some form of economic association with the rest of Canada was still envisaged (continuing use of the Canadian dollar and military, for example) and was referred to as "Sovereignty-Partnership" (in French Souveraineté-Partenariat). It remains a part of the PQ program and is tied to national independence in the minds of most Quebecers. This part of the PQ program has always been controversial, especially since Canadian federal politicians usually refuse the concept.

In 2003, the PQ launched the Saison des idées ("Season of ideas") which is a public consultation aiming to gather the opinions of Quebecers on its sovereignty project. The new program and the revised sovereignty project was adopted at the 2005 Congress.

In the 2003 election, the PQ lost power to the Liberal Party. However, in early 2004, the Liberal government of Paul Martin had proved to be unpopular, and that, combined with the federal Liberal Party sponsorship scandal, contributed to a resurgence of the BQ. In the 2004 federal elections, the Bloc Québécois won 54 of Quebec's 75 seats in the House of Commons, compared to 33 previously. However, in the 2006 federal elections the BQ lost three seats and in the 2008 federal elections lost an additional seat, bringing their total down to 49, but was still the most popular federal party in Quebec up until the 2011 Canadian federal election, when the BQ was devastated by the federalist NDP, with a total of 4 seats and loss of official party status in the Commons, compared to the NDP's 58, Conservatives 6 and the Liberals 7.

Polling data by Angus Reid in June 2009 showed the support for Quebec separation was very weak at the time and separatism unlikely to occur in the near future. Polling data showed that 32% of Quebecers believe that Quebec had enough sovereignty and should remain part of Canada, 28% thought they should separate, and 30% say they believe that Quebec does need greater sovereignty but should remain part of Canada.[23] However the poll did reveal that a majority (79%) of Quebecers still desired to achieve more autonomy. The number one area of autonomy that those polled had hoped for was with regard to culture at 34%, the next highest areas of autonomy cherished were the economy at 32%, taxation at 26%, and immigration and the environment at 15% each.[23]

The 2009 Angus Reid poll also revealed some effects of the Clarity Act in which they asked two questions, one a straightforward question for a separate nation, and the other a more muddled version on separation similar to the one posed in the 1995 referendum. The data on the questions revealed as follows to the first hard line question of "Do you believe that Quebec should become a country separate from Canada?" 34% replied yes, 54% said no, and 13% were unsure.[23] To the less clear question of "Do you agree that Quebec should become sovereign after having made a formal offer to Canada for a new economic and political partnership within a scope of the bill respecting the future of Quebec?" support for separation increased to 40% yes, the no vote still led with 41%, and the unsure increased to 19%.[23] The most startling revelation of the poll was in the fact that only 20% or 1 in 5 polled believed that Quebec would ever separate from Canada.[23]

2011 was considered a watershed year for the sovereignist movement. In the aftermath of the 2011 federal election, Léger Marketing and pro-sovereignist newspaper Le Devoir conducted a poll on the question.[24] When asked whether they would vote Yes or No in the event of a referendum, 41% of the respondents said they would vote Yes. In 2011, the sovereignist movement splintered, with several new parties being formed by disaffected politicians, with some politicians dissatisfied with slow progress towards independence, and others hoping to put the sovereignty question on the backburner. Leadership by PQ leader Pauline Marois was divisive.[25]

Allies and opponents


The separatist movement draws above the left and right spectrum, a sizeable minority of more conservative Quebecers supporting the PQ's political agenda because of the sovereignty issue, despite reservations about its social democratic political agenda.

Right and Left must be interpreted within the provincial context; Liberal Party politics generally coincide with those of other liberal parties, while PQ politics are more social democratic in orientation. There is no mass conservative movement in Quebec's political culture on the provincial level, due notably to strong government interventionism and Keynesianism shared by all parties since the 1960s (the so-called "Quebec Consensus" since the Quiet Revolution), and the province's Catholic heritage.

There are, of course, quite a few exceptions. Notable examples include:

Sovereignty has little support among Quebec Anglophones, immigrant communities, and aboriginal First Nations. About 60% of Francophones voted "Yes" in 1995, and with the exception of weak "Yes" support from Haitian, Arab and Latin American communities, most non-Francophones massively voted "No" (see Demolinguistics of Quebec). The opponents of the sovereignty movement view the project as ethnically exclusive based on its rejection by non-Francophones. This is a position sometimes disputed by the PQ, which attempts to present its project as all-embracing and essentially civic in nature.


Main article: Partition of Quebec

There is an undercurrent of feeling amongst "ethnic" and "anglo" voters that sometimes surfaces as a desire to separate from Quebec. This would create a new province of Canada, from the southwestern and southern portions of the province (comprising half of Montreal, parts of the Outaouais, the Eastern Townships).

This feeling is exemplified by the statement — "If Canada is divisible, then so is Quebec" made by federalists in 1995 or "If Quebec can separate from Canada, then we can separate from Quebec".[26] In contemporary times most mainstream political parties in Quebec deny or refuse to comment on the idea that Quebec can be divided up. During the 2007 Quebec election, federalist and Liberal Party of Quebec leader Jean Charest said that "All of these things are hypothetical questions...I do not think that Quebec is divisible. And if ever we were to go there, and end up in that situation, I know the question would be asked."[26]

However the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled in favour of the legality in partitioning Quebec, determining that Quebec is in fact divisible according to the same logic, legalities, and democratic tests that render Canada divisible. A panel of Quebec civil servants, at the request of the ruling Parti Québécois at the time, wrote a report arguing that International law guarantees the territorial integrity of Quebec [27] should Quebec become an independent state.

Cree separation

There was a feeling amongst the Cree of Northern Quebec, that should the province separate, they would remain part of Canada, and would force the province to return to its pre-1912 boundaries, and re-establish the Ungava district of the Northwest Territories, or a new territory or province created in its place.

Rest of Canada

The other nine provinces of Canada have generally been opposed to Quebec sovereignty. Alberta has seen parties promoting secession, mainly during the controversy of the National Energy Program, such as the Separation Party of Alberta, but these have been marginal. In 1982, Gordon Kesler was elected to the Alberta legislature under the banner of the Western Canada Concept Party, while in British Columbia no separatist party has ever had representatives elected to the provincial legislature.

The Charter of the French Language and other legislative acts approved by the National Assembly have reinforced the position of French as the primary language in Quebec. Since the enactment of the charter in 1977, French has been the only official language of Quebec. A broad range of services in English are maintained for the English-speaking community, including education and health care. Reaction in the other nine provinces to the assertion of French-language rights and the strengthening nationalism amongst Francophones in Quebec has been mixed. Quebec language laws violate the Canadian Constitution so the province regularly using the "notwithstanding clause" to suspend the constitution to maintain the legality of their laws. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, the federal parliament enacted the Official Languages Act, making both French and English official languages throughout Canada, resulting in real efforts to improve accessibility to French services from the federal government. New Brunswick, with a large French-speaking minority, has become officially bilingual. Governments of other provinces, such as Ontario, which has a sizeable Francophone population, have increased the level of government services available to Francophone residents. French language education is now being made available to Francophones in many communities in Canada, and many English-Canadians are taking advantage of French immersion programs to encourage their children to acquire a basic working ability to communicate in French. Bilingualism in Canada increased towards the end of the 20th century, primarily from Quebecers becoming more bilingual.

In general, francophones outside Quebec oppose sovereignty, while non-francophones, particularly the anglophone minority in Montreal, also have remained opposed. After polling heavily on the subject, Leger president Mark Leger concluded: “These numbers surprise me, they’re so clear across the country.... You look at Francophones outside Quebec, it’s the same result.... Overall, outside the French in Quebec, all the other groups across the country are against this notion.” The exact question of the November 2006 poll was, "Currently, there is a political debate on recognizing Quebec as a nation. Do you personally consider that Quebecers form a nation or not?" Canadians from every region outside Quebec, non-Francophone Quebecers (62 per cent), Francophone Canadians outside Quebec (77 per cent) all resoundingly rejected the idea.[28]


In France, although openness and support is found on both sides of the political spectrum, the French political right has traditionally been warmer to sovereignists (like President Charles de Gaulle, who shouted his support of independence in Montreal in 1967) than the French left (like President François Mitterrand).

This used to be a paradoxical phenomenon because of the Parti Québécois and most sovereignists being to the political left. Michel Rocard (who became Prime Minister of the French Republic) has been one of the French Socialists that broke that so-called rule the most, maintaining a close and warm relationship with Quebec sovereignists. More recently, Ségolène Royal, a leader of the French Socialist Party, indicated support for "Quebec sovereignty" but it was seemingly a reflexive answer to an "out of the blue" question from a Quebec journalist in Paris. On a later visit to Quebec City she gave a more nuanced position, mentioning a Parliamentary motion recognizing the Québécois as a "nation", but also describing 400 years of "oppression" and resistance of francophones in Canada.

The French Foreign Office motto concerning Quebec "national question" is "non-ingérence et non-indifférence" ("no interference and no indifference"), which epitomizes the official position of the French State. In other words, while the Quebec people vote to stay within Canada, France will officially support the Canadian Confederation the way it is. That is why bilateral relations between both governments (Canada and France) have been so strong for many years.

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy has stated on the record that he opposes the separation of Quebec from Canada.[29][30]

Sovereignist organizations

Political parties

Non-partisan organizations

Defunct organizations

Sympathetic organizations

Sovereignist media

Quebec sovereignty movement in fiction

  • Richard Rohmer's novel Separation (1976) was turned into a TV-movie for CTV Television in 1977. In the movie, the Parti Québécois has formed the government of Quebec but Premier Gaston Belisle has repeatedly put off its promise to hold a referendum. International politics forces Belisle's hand.
  • In the mid-1980s, a second movie, Quebec-Canada 1995, depicts a meeting between the president of Quebec and the prime minister of Canada to discuss a crisis involving Quebec military occupations of parts of Ontario and New Brunswick. Canada's armed forces are stretched thin with peacekeepers in such varied places as the Falkland Islands (with "Lady Goosegreen" being Margaret Thatcher).
  • William Weintraub's satirical 1979 novel The Underdogs provoked controversy by imagining a future Quebec in which English-speakers were an oppressed minority, complete with a violent resistance movement. One planned stage version was cancelled before its premiere.
  • Clive Cussler's 1984 novel Night Probe! is set against a fictional attempt at secession in the late 1980s. Rights to newly discovered oil resources in Ungava Bay, discovered as Quebec moves to secede, clash with the ramifications of a rediscovered secret treaty negotiated between the U.K. and U.S. governments during World War I.
  • David Foster Wallace's novel Infinite Jest includes both real and fictional Québécois separatist movements as integral to the plot. In the story, the United States has merged with Canada and Mexico to form the Organization of North American Nations (ONAN). Wheelchair-bound Quebec separatists use a video so entertaining it leads to death to accomplish their goals of both Quebec independence and the end of the ONAN.
  • In the Southern Victory Series of alternate history novels by Harry Turtledove, Quebec becomes a separate nation during the Great War (an alternative World War I), in which the United States defeats Canada, the UK and her allies (including the Confederate States of America). Since the United States organized this separation to weaken the rest of Anglophone Canada (and the UK by extension), the Republic of Quebec operated as a client state of the United States, rather than being truly independent. This is later demonstrated in the series when Dr. Leonard O'Doull is pressured by the United States and Quebec governments to serve as a surgeon in the U.S. Army, despite being a Quebec citizen. O'Doull joins both under this duress, but also as a result of his loyalty to his birth country.
  • In DC Comics, the villain (and sometimes hero) Plastique is initially a Québécois freedom fighter, who resorts to acts of terrorism.
  • In Marvel Comics, the superhero Northstar was part of the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ) in his youth.
  • Margaret Atwood's 1979 novel Life Before Man is set in Toronto in the late 1970s and several characters watch and sometimes comment upon the elections and sovereignist movement in Quebec. The sovereignist movement and its struggles are metaphorically linked to the difficulties the characters in the novel have with separating their own personal relationships.
  • In the roleplaying game Trinity there are references made to a separatist Quebec nation who in return for independence helped the then formed 'Confederated States of America' take control of Canada.
  • In the novel Babylon Babies, loosely adapted to cinema as Babylon A.D. by the French-born Canadian cyberpunk writer Maurice Dantec, Quebec is now an independence and is refer to as the "Free province of Quebec".
  • In the roleplaying game Shadowrun, Quebec exists as a sovereign nation alongside the United Canadian American States and the Confederated American States.
  • In the film Die Hard, the terrorist leader demands, as a ruse, the release of imprisoned members of the fictional group Liberté du Québec. (Presumably meant to be a fictional version of the FLQ.)
  • In Peter Watts' science fiction series starting with Starfish, Quebec has attained sovereignty and is an energetic/economic superpower within North America.

See also


External links

  • UNESCO article on the evolution of Quebec nationalism (2002) (English)
  • Parti Québécois website (French) (partly in English)
  • Quebec Solidaire (French)
  • Parti Communiste du Québec (French)
  • Bloc Québécois website (French) (partly in English)
  • Saint-Jean-Baptiste Society website (French) (partly in English)
  • .

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