On October 30, 1995, the Canada that celebrated its 150th birthday this year almost ceased to exist. That was the night of the 1995 Quebec referendum on the question of whether Quebec should separate from Canada (YES) or remain in the federation (NO). The result was a shockingly close 49.42% YES to 50.58% NO.
In The Morning After: The 1995 Quebec Referendum and the day that almost was, Chantal Hébert and Jean Lapierre interview several key figures on both sides of the issue, not focussing so much on what actually happened as what might have been if the results were reversed. I had a great time reading the book. With so many moving parts and disparate opinions, it's impossible to write an alternate history of the referendum, and that's clear from the start, but getting a glimpse into what these people were thinking about and planning was really interesting and, in some cases, kind of funny.
I was vaguely familiar with Hébert's work prior to reading this, but Jean Lapierre is someone I knew absolutely nothing about. It turns out that he was a founding member of the Bloc Quebecois, Canada's baffling federal separatist party. The Bloc was, even more bafflingly, the Official Opposition in the House of Commons at the time of the referendum.
I wish I had the time to devote to really digging in to the Two Solitudes and all that fun stuff, but unfortunately this quick summary will have to suffice.
First, though, you should know that when the referendum happened, I was the ripe old age of nine. I was also a regular viewer of farmervision, which is to say that my family had four television channels: CBC, CTV, STV, and Radio-Canada (en français). This led to my watching a lot of CBC's two political satire shows, Royal Canadian Air Farce and This Hour Has 22 Minutes, and as a result I was more informed on the subject of federal politics at the age of nine than I've ever been since.
Reading this book was a fun opportunity to learn a bit about the politicians that are tremendously familiar to me as caricatures. If you watched the embedded video above, you'll already be familiar with Air Farce's take on Lucien Bouchard and how he might have reacted to a YES vote, but here's the list of everyone who appears in the book, and some brief thoughts if I happen to have any.
- Lucien Bouchard (YES) - Bouchard sounds very cool and charming based on the content of the book. The man has had three wives and also lost a leg to flesh-eating disease.
- Mario Dumont (YES) - Basically the wunderkind of separatism.
- Jacques Parizeau (YES) - A psycho.
- Lucienne Robillard (NO)
- Jean Charest (NO)
- Daniel Johnson (NO)
- Sheila Copps (NO) - I think I'd like to learn more about Sheila Copps. Like Bouchard (?!), she has had three spouses (men though). She was also the first Member of Parliament in Canadian history to give birth and the first ever female Deputy Prime Minister. Like other non-Quebec politicians, however, she didn't have a lot to do with the referendum.
- Brian Tobin (NO)
- Paul Martin (NO)
- Raymond Chrétien (NO)
- André Ouellet (NO)
- Preston Manning (?) - Leader of the Refooooorm Party, now an odd skeleton in the Conservative Party of Canada's closet (the Reform Party, that is, not Manning). Honestly Manning seemed to relish the idea of Quebec's separation as it would somewhat balance the scales in Canada's east vs west version of the Two Solitudes.
- Roy Romanow (NO) - Former premier of Saskatchewan! Romanow brings up the horrifying prospect of Western separation, something that occasionally comes up when people post irresponsibly misleading infographics about transfer payments (*cough*Brad Wall*cough*).
- Mike Harris (NO)
- Frank McKenna (NO)
- Bob Rae (NO)
- Jean Chrétien (NO) - I recently went through a list of Canadian prime ministers and there are several men on it who are really distinct "characters": Diefenbaker, Pierre Trudeau, John A. (Asshole) MacDonald, etc. But Jean Chrétien is such an intriguing figure and it's kind of amazing to think that he was our prime minister for so long and during a time of such upheaval in terms of national unity. There is serious backlash against current PM Justin Trudeau for having a personality, but I think that's mostly because the long dark night of the previous government made everyone forget that Prime Ministers could and should have distinct characteristics. In terms of the actual material presented here, for a guy who seems quite warm and laid back, Chrétien appears to have kept a huge number of cards very close to his chest, and wasn't willing to show them all even twenty plus years later. Love that guy.