On-going Crisis


Traditional Quebec
The Quiet Revolution
Constitutional Crisis
On-going Crisis
Recent Quebec


1) The On-going Constitutional Impasse of the 1980s and 1990s

The new Constitution left a number of unresolved problems:

  • The Aboriginal people wanted confirmation of their treaty rights and the recognition of their right to self-government

  • The western provinces wanted a new elected Senate where they would be better represented

  • Most importantly, Quebec felt betrayed that its demand for a distinct society clause had been refused, thus depriving it of its power to veto federal laws that might endanger its specific culture, and symbolically depriving the Quebeckers of their special status as a founding people of Canada.

To this day, the new Constitution has not been ratified by the province of Quebec

The Liberal Party came back to power in Quebec in 1985 and opened new negotiations with the Federal government, which resulted in the Meech Lake agreement of 1987. The agreement proposed the addition of a clause to the Constitution to say that Quebec is a “distinct society”. In addition all provinces would be given a veto and Quebec would be given control over immigration. The agreement was blocked by the aboriginal movement in Manitoba and collapsed, causing deep anger in Quebec, where the separatist movement grew again. In 1990 a second round of negotiations resulted in the Charlottown agreement (distinct society, clause to recognize aboriginal rights), which was rejected by a national referendum.


In 1994 the Parti Québécois came back to power, and organized a new referendum on independence in 1995. Again the answer was no, but the result was very close, with 50.58 % of Quebeckers voting no and 49.42 % yes.


The Quebec Premier, Jacques Parizeau, blamed the result on “money and ethnic votes” (30 October 1995).


Jacques Parizeau - Battu par l'argent et le vote ethnique (30 octobre 1995)




2) Quebec and the Sovereignty Issue since 1995


After 1995 the sovereignist question long remained dormant in Quebec. The PQ was reelected in the 1998 elections, but lost to the Liberals, under the leadership of Jean Charest, in 2003.


During that period, the Bloc Québécois and Party Québécois made extraordinary efforts  to repair the damage done by Mr. Parizeau's declaration and "de-ethnicize" the sovereignist movement.

This worked to a certain extent; the election of André Boisclair as leader of the PQ in November 2005 marked the coming to power of a new sovereignist generation, which integrated an increasing number of high-profile ethnic Quebeckers. Many of them were the "children of Bill 101": first- or second-generation immigrants who grew up in Quebec attending French-language public schools and saw sovereignty as merely the formalization of what was already a reality for them.

However, most recent immigrants, especially those who are not Francophone, show little interest in promoting the Quebecois identity and tend to consider that an independent Quebec would be a less favourable economic environment than Canada. This is problematic for the sovereignty cause, especially since the share of recent immigrants in the Quebec population is growing as a combined result of decreasing birth rates and a strong immigration policy.


Other factors combine to explain the decline of the sovereignty issue:

- The strong presence of the Bloc Quebecois in Ottawa protected Quebec’s interest at the federal level and reduced the need for independence

- The effectiveness of Law 101 to protect the use of French in Quebec also made independence seem less necessary



There was also a change in the atttitude of the federal government after the arrival in power of the Conservatives in 2006:


- The Conservatives increased decentralization by making large fiscal transfers towards all the provinces so that they can take charge of social programs.


- They also offered a symbolic gesture when Parliament in 2006 voted a law that recognized Quebec as “a distinct nation within a united Canada”.


Read about "Harper's Love-in with Quebec" at