OUI: Vive le Québec libre

"Acceptez-vous que le Québec devienne souverain, après avoir offert formellement au Canada un nouveau partenariat économique et politique, dans le cadre du projet de loi sur l'avenir du Québec et de l'entente signée le 12 juin 1995?"
["Do you agree that Quebec should become sovereign after having made a formal offer to Canada for a new economic and political partnership within the scope of the bill respecting the future of Quebec and of the agreement signed on June 12, 1995?"]



Ottawa, Ontario
October 30th, 1995:

Every eye in the Prime Minister's Office was transfixed on the television, watching as the vote count rolled in. They all knew how it was going to go; just like 1980. Québec would vote to remain in Canada, and the separatist movement would die a second death. The government had made no serious plans to deal with the possibility of a "Yes" victory, so sure were they of victory[1].

But circumstances were not like 1980. While the Parti Québécois had dominated Quebec politics at the time, René Lévesque had always opposed running separatist candidates at the federal level, so Quebec continued to be a battleground between the Grits and the Tories. Meech Lake changed everything. After the Mulroney government's best efforts failed to convince Québec to endorse the 1982 Constitution, a number of Members of Parliament, from both the Progressive Conservatives and the Liberals, defected to form the Bloc Québécois; a federal separatist party that would run with the PQ's blessing. The 1993 election would take the Bloc to official opposition status, with them nearly sweeping the province. Out of 65 ridings, only 21 did not elect a Bloc Québécois candidate.

With the failure of Meech Lake and the federal level success of the Bloc, separatism's second wave was at a fever pitch. Both "Yes" and "No" sides were convinced that they would win, and what neither could anticipate was just how close it would be.

Late October often brings unseasonably bad weather to the Canadian east. Snow on Halloween was the rule, not the exception; and even today remains a distinct possibility, though rain is more likely. This year's weather, though, would be even more unusual: the day of the election, the city of Montreal was hit by a freak snowstorm[2]. An anglophone stronghold in Quebec, Montreal would be the source of many of the "No" votes. But with wet snowfall, bad driving conditions, and all-around terrible weather, many voters decided to stay home.

The Prime Minister and his aides looked on in horror as the final vote was tallied. By less than a percent, Quebec had voted for sovereignty.



[1]: By all accounts, the Federal government had no contingency plans for a "Yes" victory. IOTL, some aspects of it would later be decided by the Supreme Court and the Clarity Act, but these were done with an eye to future referendums, and we cannot infer with certainty that the same conclusions would have been reached in a scenario where Québec has already voted for sovereignty.

It is important to note that critically important questions, like "How large would the yes-voting majority have to be?" or "Can Québec unilaterally secede in the first place?" were not settled at the time, and to this day have never been settled definitively. The Clarity Act of 2000 decided that a "clear majority" would be necessary for sovereignty negotiations to even begin, but the Act explicitly left the definition of "clear majority" to the Supreme Court's discretion.

[2]: Our POD. IOTL, the 1995 referendum was decided by less than 2% of the vote. Even a small change could have tipped the scales, and ITTL, it does.
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Update 1

-The Globe and Mail, October 31st, 1995



Jean Pelletier[1] slapped down his morning paper.

"How could this happen?" asked the Prime Minister, hunched over his desk.​

The rest of the PM's staff sat quietly in their chairs, some hanging their heads in shock.

"It was just too close," Pelletier replied. "If they think we're just going to let them go, just like that, they're crazy."

"That's what they've always been after," Chrétien replied, "They always thought we would just roll over."

"We need to release an official statement," said Pelletier.

"Saying what? We tell them to fuck off?" Chrétien replied, trying to lighten the mood.

"Our approach needs to be totally non-committal. If we oppose them too harshly, they'll raise their defenses. We tell them that the legitimacy of the referendum still needs to be determined, that it needs to be decided by the Supreme Court."

"I agree 100%," said the Prime Minister, "but we shouldn't just stall for the sake of stalling. We need to go on the offensive with this, just hoping for the best has already failed us."

"Have you got something in mind?" asked Pelletier.

"The constitutionality of seceding is still in question. So, we answer the question," Chrétien said.

"Are you talking about a full-blown amendment? We'd risk another Meech Lake!" replied Pelletier.

"Not if Quebec isn't at the meeting table."

"We can't just not invite them, that would galvanize the separatists even more!"

"You actually think Parizeau would accept the invitation?" Chrétien said, smiling, "That would mean acknowledging that he's still subservient to the federal government."​

A smile slowly crept across Pelletier's face.

"Hmmm... it's clever, but it would still spark Québécois resentment if we'd change the rules of the game in the middle of the third period."

"I'm not saying we'd make it impossible to secede, just make it clear that there can be no unilateral splits. We force them to sit down and negotiate terms, so they can't just take their ball and run away. And we're not going to hammer out the terms of a constitutional amendment right here, right now anyway."

"So what's our first step?" Pelletier asked.

"Get Marcel Massé[2] in here as soon as possible, and arrange a caucus meeting for our MPs from Québec ridings," the Prime Minister said.

"That does include you, Jean.[3]" Pelletier replied.

"I know that," Chrétien replied.

"And André Ouellet?[4]"

"Obviously not!"

"I was only joking." said Pelletier.

"I know," replied the Prime Minister.​


[1] Jean Pelletier was Jean Chrétien's Head of Staff, and a close friend to him. He served as Mayor of Quebec City for 12 years, during which he revitalized the Old Town and was instrumental in having it declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

To quote Wikipedia, "Chrétien praised Pelletier as Chief of Staff, saying “He ran a very tight–and tight-lipped–ship.... As a result, we didn't suffer from the public feuding, backbiting gossip, and anonymous leaks that had plagued other PMOs. Even those columnists and academics who were no fans of the Liberal Party had to concede that Pelletier's operation was among the most efficient and harmonious in memory, despite having been reduced from 120 to 80 employees as a cost-saving measure.” Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson noted that “Pelletier stayed away from the media. He seldom met with journalists, and when he did, he gave almost nothing away. He was courteous, refined, sometimes witty and usually non-informative.”"

[2] Marcel Massé was Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs in 1995, making him responsible for matters relating to relations between the federal and provincial governments.

[3] Jean Chrétien and Jean Pelletier were childhood friends, presumably on a first-name basis with each other. While it's likely that they remained formal in formal settings, I'm taking artistic license to characterize their relationship.

[4] André Ouellet was Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1995. Involving him would have obviously implied recognition that Quebec was acting as a sovereign state.
Cool. It's kind of weird to see people using hockey in normal conversation, but I guess that's Canada for you.

I wonder what the American position on this is going to be? Also, any hints as to Quebec's membership in certain international organizations in the long term (NORAD, NATO, NAFTA, etc.)?
I believe France had intended to immediately recognize Quebec's independence should a yes vote occur, while Canada would have said it as illegitimate, with the UK taking Canada's side.

The transatlantic world is going to be very divided on this. I am curious where you will take the story.
Very interesting. Looking forward to more. What is the position of France in all this I wonder? IOTL there have been some sour periods of Franco-Canadian relations vis-à-vis Québec sovereignty. This is also during the end of Mitterand's term/Chirac's ascendancy.

Mitterand famously snubbed the founder of the PQ René Lévesque for personal issues I presume, but Chirac had promised as early as October 1995 shortly before taking office after being elected that spring that France would recognize Québecois sovereignty if the referendum was in favour of a "oui"
That would be 2002.

OK, then I can't make a statement either way for Québec's status at that time.

The whole point of this TL is going to be that Québec voting "yes" would have been an unmitigated clusterfuck. The feds had no plan for it, and the separatist plans for it were pipe dreams at best. Nobody was going into that vote with a concrete plan for what to do if it came up "OUI", and we as a country are damn lucky that it didn't.
Update 2

-The Globe and Mail, November 2nd, 1995


BY PHIL RYAN | Celebrating Québécois separatists had some rain on their parade when, late last night, the French government made an official statement that they would not recognize Québec as an independent state until the issue is definitively settled. While the new French President, Jacques Chirac, had made comments to the effect that his government would immediately recognize Québec upon a "yes" victory in the October referendum[1], his country's government has announced that they will be adopting a wait-and-see attitude.

While relations between Québec and France have always been friendly, inside sources claim that the decision is a result of French reluctance to legitimize regional sovereignty claims. Canada is hardly alone in its struggle with regional nationalism; many European states have found themselves dealing with nationalist separatist movements. France itself has Breton and Basque nationalism movements, and would risk accusations of hypocrisy if it were to recognize Québec. The United Kingdom, too, is now facing the rising issue of Scottish Nationalism; and nearly every part of Spain is claimed by some separatist movement.

The Québécois must now wait for a reaction from Washington. American recognition would be the most important achievement for an independent Québec, since American recognition would be necessary for NAFTA partnership, which will be vitally important for Québec to attain economic independence. Canada's government has already publicly stated that it will not recognize Québec until acceptable terms for sovereignty are reached, though separatist leaders still say that they will accept nothing less than unconditional recognition.


[1] Source: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/chirac-says-paris-would-recognise-quebec-1579321.html