29 September 2015

William Johnson: Lysiane Gagnon stands as witness to Quebec's two referendums

Gagnon also denounced those who insisted that secession must abide by the Constitution. She said they “caused a debate that is essentially political to be diverted to the sterile ground of abstract legality.” In her last column before the 1995 referendum, she advised: “Both options are equally honourable.”

“Je ne me souviens pas” might be Canada’s motto. Thomas Mulcair repeats that, for the 1980 and 1995 referendums, 50 per cent plus one for Oui was the threshold for Quebec’s secession. “Those were the rules in 1980 and 1995,” he said in Friday’s debate. False, but it’s still widely believed by many Quebecers, including some people who should know better ...

Her 52-page essay, followed by a collection of her columns from the 1995 referendum cycle, demonstrates that Quebec is caught in a cultural and political bind. Its intelligentsia largely subscribes to Quebec’s independence, but most Québécois, while easily roused to fury at perceived contempt from les Anglais, remain attached to Canada ...

Whatever was said by some Quebec politicians, the law governing both referendums set no standard for a victory. The white paper announcing that law repudiated any such standard. The impact of a referendum, it said, was “the political value of the referendum process.” Because a referendum had no executive effect on laws or the Constitution, it was pointless to specify a threshold of victory: “This consultative character of referendums means it would serve no purpose to include in the law special clauses with respect to the majority required or to the required level of participation.”

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