Photo: The canadian Press
René Lévesque photographed on the evening of the defeat of the referendum on the project of sovereignty-association
“If I have well understood, my dear friends, if I have understood you correctly, you’re saying “next time”. “On the evening of may 20, 1980, it is that René Lévesque sees, according to his frequent use of the conditional tense, the immediate future is the result in a referendum. He speaks in front of thousands of supporters gathered in the Centre Paul-Sauvé. Many are in tears.
Polls have predicted the defeat from the beginning. René Lévesque will support after the fact that he was nevertheless looking forward to campaign, that he was comfortable in his skin, ” reports his biographer, Pierre Godin. Its instant friends have all retained the sense that he knew in advance “that the carrots were cooked,” says Godin. So why was it dark however ?
“Lévesque appears to be almost relieved after the fact “, argues in an interview to the Duty of the historian Jean-Charles Panneton, author of two recent books devoted to the former liberal minister, became the leader of the Parti québécois. “The council of ministers, after the defeat, Lévesque refuses to do a balance sheet, analyze the campaign. I see qualities important in Lévesque. It is undeniable. But when, as a historian, we look at its action closely, and it appears a bit messy. The referendum, it looks like he has done to get rid of it. One feels that above all he wanted to govern, to administer the daily life in Québec. “
What are 59,56 % of citizens who reject the proposal scope by Lévesque. “I have to tell you that it is hard, it hurts more, it hurts more deeply than any electoral defeat, and I know what I’m talking about,” said the prime minister on the evening of may 20.
In fact, “for many Quebecers, the position defended by René Lévesque’s more like a form of weird federalism renewed, called sovereignty-association,” says the historian Panneton. “Quebecers say that if, in the end, it is for nothing to really change — as alleged by a number of ministers pq members in the course of the referendum campaign — also trust the canadian prime minister, who is in the best position after all,” to reform the Canada, because that is what it seemed to be. Pierre Elliot Trudeau said that the No was a Yes to the change. But which one ?
The proper use of referenda
Lévesque had asked his minister of Robert Burns, in an overall effort to clean the political and democratic life, examine all over the world this was done in the matter of popular consultation. The referendum, the new government envisaged it as a democratic tool modern to which a company should have the right to use.
“The two committees umbrellas were inspired by the british experience “, analyzes the historian Jean-Charles Panneton. “The mechanics of the referendum was very good, but the law was poorly fignolée. It was naive to believe that the federal government was going to submit to it. The law is democratic, but only if everyone plays the game ! Otherwise, it gives nothing. “And prime minister Trudeau was not at all interested in this law, notes the historian. “The feds have not at all hesitated. John Christian said bluntly that he was not required to comply with this law. “
What is amazing is the lack of preparation to win this referendum. It has not done much to win in terms of energy, of speech.
— Jean-Charles Panneton
In his speech of defeat, the evening of 20 may, René Lévesque expressed its disappointment in respect of the non-observance of the democratic rules governing this year in a referendum, even if it recognizes the results following the framework that Quebec has given. “Waiting to see what will happen in the future, this victory of the No, even if I have to repeat it, because you’ll remember it from this point of view, […] is a little tarnished on the level of content, as well as methods, and in particular, this campaign is shockingly immoral for the federal itself ; this campaign, through which we stepped, without the slightest hesitation, all the rules of the game that we had data from Quebec, the victory of the No, in spite of everything, it is necessary to accept, ” explains Lévesque in his speech.
The next day, in the Abitibi region, the farmer Hauris Lalancette is interviewed in front of the cameras of Denys Arcand for a plan which will become a film named comfort and indifference. Colorful character, Lalancette has been in the habit of entrusting the task without a filter to the documentary filmmaker Pierre Perrault. It embodies, in every film where he appears, a form of popular wisdom, uninhibited. In its own way, that is to say, no way, it summarizes Lévesque : “It is also wrong to recognize, one hundred years later, that Louis Riel was right. Because yesterday, shots of Louis Riel, there has been a mass. […] It is reckoned that the wolf is so greedy. “
That is the question
Many analysts believe the referendum question in 1980 tortuous, convoluted, certainly too long.
Louise Harel was then vice-president of the Parti québécois. “Is this the length or the complexity of the question itself was for something in this defeat?’ she asked it yesterday, forty years later. “At the margin only. Notice that it had not been for mr. Parizeau and me to vote against its formulation in the select committee. “
Before the start of the campaign, the ” yes ” camp pointed the nose only 30 % in the polls. The quick campaign had helped at the very least, said Louise Harel, to make a gain of 10 %. Too little of it. Too late.
A lack of preparation ?
The referendum question gives rise to a political programme in two phases, according to the strategic plans made at the end of the year 1979 only, in the name of a étapisme that personifies minister Claude Morin, although it is far from being the only one to defend this street from René Lévesque.
“What is surprising is the lack of preparation to win this referendum,” says Jean-Charles Panneton to the result of his research. “We haven’t done much to win in terms of energy, of speech. “Did they really talk about the substantive issue ? We talked very little since the 1976 election, he said. “They say even Jacques Parizeau to settle, talk less. We are going to start talking about it really only in 1979. The desire to prepare the ground, to explain the merits of the case, is absent. Marcel Léger, who is the organizer, said after the fact that Lévesque went to the referendum as if it were a simple election, ” without having understood the necessity of making an important background work in advance. “Gold, Lévesque before him, Trudeau, who had never stopped talking about substantive issues,” according to its prospects.
The referendum had been victorious, negotiations with the federal government would be initiated. And the quebec government promised to submit the results thereof to the people on the occasion of a second referendum. Of the powder in the eyes, say, the tenors of canadian federalism.
The camp of the Non-is, in principle, placed under the leadership of Claude Ryan, the former director of the Duty, became leader of the liberal Party. But Ryan is quickly left by Trudeau, which will soon take up all the space. “Trudeau was in full verve. It has been exceptional. Even Pierre Bourgault recognized. And Lévesque, during this time, the under-appreciated “, concludes the historian Jean-Charles Panneton.