Jacques Parizeau's house of cards.

AuthorDion, Stephane
PositionChantal Hebert's "The Morning After: The 1995 Quebec Referendum and the Day that Almost Was"

This is a credible book. It was written by one of our most accomplished political journalists, and certainly our most bicultural one. Chapter by chapter, Chantal Hebert weaves a clear and succinct summary of 17 interviews conducted with the main actors in the 1995 Quebec referendum and some federal and provincial leaders of the time. She asked every one of those political actors the same questions: What would you have done if the Yes had won? What do you think would have happened? As I write this, none of the 17 personalities have complained that they were misquoted. And for most of these interviews, Hebert benefited from Jean Lapierre's extraordinary experience combining politics with on-the-ground journalism.

Both authors insist that they tried not to let their personal opinions influence how they reported these interviews. In my view, they have met their objective. Since my own personal opinions on the issue are well known, what I have done for this review was to check whether or not their description of the facts supported or contradicted my opinions. I believe I can show that it actually strengthened them.

Paradoxically, it is Lucien Bouchard who recently, in a single sentence, summed up what I believe could have happened if the Yes had won. About the time The Morning After was published, Bouchard was interviewed about the unilateral declaration of independence Jacques Parizeau envisaged if the Yes side had prevailed in the 1995 referendum. This, freely translated, was Bouchard's response: "It would have been dramatic, it shouldn't happen that way, because it would be chaos the day after." (1)

It was precisely to avoid such chaos that a few months after the 1995 referendum I accepted Jean Chretien's offer to be his Minister of Canadian Unity. I was convinced that the process put in place by Jacques Parizeau could not have led to independence. It would have led to chaos or at least to months of turmoil, bringing no good to anyone. The shock would have been felt throughout Canada but nowhere more than in Quebec and particularly in Montreal. Contrary to what has often been said about my actions or motives, it was not to protect Canada from Quebec that I pushed hard to clarify the rules of secession. I did it as a Quebecer who did not want his society to be profoundly divided in the aftermath of a future Yes vote, without a legal framework to help overcome its internal divisions.

Reading The Morning After did not shake my conviction, but strengthened it. The book should be recommended to those who keep repeating, ad nauseam, that Canada came within inches of...

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