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1995

Quebec separatists narrowly defeated

By a bare majority of 50.6 percent to 49.4 percent, citizens of the province of Quebec vote to remain within the federation of Canada. The referendum asked Quebec’s citizens, the majority of whom are French-speakers, to vote whether their province should begin the process that could make it independent of Canada.

The French were the first settlers of Canada, but in 1763 their dominions in eastern Canada fell under the control of the British. In 1867, Quebec joined Canada’s English-speaking provinces in forming the autonomous Dominion of Canada. Over the next century, the English language and Anglo-America culture made steady inroads into Quebec, leading many French Canadians to fear that they were losing their language and unique culture. The Quebec independence movement was born out of this fear, gaining ground in the 1960s and leading to the establishment of a powerful separatist party—the Parti Québécois—in 1967. In 1980, an independence referendum was defeated by a 60 percent to 40 percent margin.

Far narrower than the 1980 margin, the 1995 referendum was the most serious threat to Canadian unity in the country’s 128-year existence, carrying with it the possibility of losing nearly one-third of Canada’s population if the Oui vote won. Quebec separatists refrained from any significant violence after their narrow defeat, but former Québécois leader Jacques Parizeau raised the specter of racial tension by declaring that his campaign had been beaten by “money and the ethnic vote.”

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