Referendum Reflection

By Yarema Kelebay and William Brooks

This short article was written after some 60% of Quebeckers voted no to the Parti Quebecois government’s request for a mandate to negotiate “sovereignty-association” with Canada. It was published in the News and Chronicle, Montreal, May 29, 1980.

We know from the results of last week’s referendum that supporters of Quebec independence are clearly in the minority. Ninety –three out of one hundred and ten ridings responded “non” even to the soft request for a mandate to negotiate sovereignty-association. The popular vote swung roughly sixty-forty against Premier Levesque’s “oui” option.

Nevertheless, it was clear from the Premier’s remarks to his followers immediately after the vote that he did not regard the results as definitive and final. Federalism, he said, has been given “one more chance” but remains on trial.

Among the partisan cheers in the Paul Sauve arena he clearly implied that the PQ objective of a sovereign Quebec remained legitimate in spite of its rejection by a majority of the province’s citizens.

Only one week before the Premier had declared to a capacity crowd in the jean Beliveau arena in South Shore Longueuil that Mr. Trudeau would not dare deny the “democratic will of the people” if Quebecers vote “oui” in the May referendum. Yet, Mr. Levesque seemed willing to do just that only minutes after the final tally was in.

Manoeuvers of this sort may serve to warn us of one important advantage that the Quebec independence movement still has over its federalist counterpart. They know exactly what they want. The will of their membership is still coherent and strong and they are not particularly moved by a wish to understand the motives and desires of others even if the others are in the majority.

Whereas federalism, by its very nature, requires and breeds a spirit of compromise and a certain relativity of judgement towards the challenges of coexistence; young independentists are not hampered by any such constraints.

They have no wish to preserve the stability continuity that is necessary to our economy and political well-being. Unlike the common man, for whom they presume to speak, they enjoy almost total freedom of action. They possess the hardiness and mobility of nomads. In some ways we come to envy them. They are still free from the normal constraints of mature working class people. Their intensity and effectiveness stems from having become a “single issue lobby.”

Nevertheless most of us have come to understand that life does not go on forever at a constant fever pitch. In this sense the defeat of the “oui” option was a victory for the average man over peripatetic intellectuals, poets and politicians whom we have allowed to set the agenda in Quebec over the past decade.

It is obvious that the majority of Quebecers. It is evident that the majority of Quebecers have begun to perceive that the values of the Parti Quebecois are different to those of the society and culture to which they belong.

The prolonged cheers of Mr. Leveque’s supporters may have suggested to him that they wanted the quest for independence to continue but the votes of the majority signalled that they want him to move in another direction.

It remains to be seen where the Premier’s real faith resides: in the exhortations of the revolutionary “crowd” or in the democratic expression of the “ballot box.”