The Parti Quebecois called a sovereignty referendum for October 1995, and polls indicated the PQ might win. Belatedly, Prime Minister Jean Chretien joined the fray, and on October 25 he made this televised address to Canadians. He played on love of country, and the serious economic consequences for Quebec if it chose to separate.
For the first time in my mandate as prime minister, I have asked to speak directly to Canadians tonight. I do so because we are in an exceptional situation.
Tonight, in particular, I want to speak to my fellow Quebecers because, at this moment, the future of our whole country is in their hands.
But I also want to speak to all Canadians because this issue concerns them, deeply. It is not only the future of Quebec that will be decided on Monday. It is the future of all of Canada. The decision that will be made is serious and irreversible, with deep, deep consequences.
Separation of Quebec
What is at stake is our country. What is at stake is our heritage. To break up Canada or build Canada, to remain Canadian or no longer be Canadian, to stay or to leave—this is the issue of the referendum.
When my fellow Quebecers make their choice on Monday, they have the responsibility and the duty to understand the implications of that choice.
The fact is, that hidden behind a murky question is a very clear option. It is the separation of Quebec, a Quebec that would no longer be part of Canada. Where Quebecers would no longer enjoy the rights and privileges associated with Canadian citizenship. Where Quebecers would no longer share a Canadian passport or a Canadian dollar, no matter what the advocates of separatism may claim. Where Quebecers would be made foreigners in their own country.
A dangerous gamble
I know that many Quebecers, in all good faith, are thinking of voting yes in order to bring change to Canada. I am telling them that if they wish to remain Canadian, they are taking a very dangerous gamble. Anyone who really wants to remain a Canadian should think twice before taking such a dangerous risk. Listen to the leaders of the separatist side. They are very clear. The country they want is not a better Canada, it is a separate Quebec. Don’t be fooled.
There are also those Quebecers who are thinking of voting yes to give Quebec a better bargaining position to negotiate an economic and political partnership with the rest of Canada. Again, don’t be fooled. A yes vote means the destruction of the political and economic union we already
enjoy . . .
The end of Canada would be nothing less than the end of a dream, the end of a country that has made us the envy of the world. Canada is not just any country. It is unique. It is the best country in the world.
Perhaps it is something we have come to take for granted. But we should never, never let that happen. Once more, today it’s up to each of us to restate our love for Canada, to say we don’t want to lose it.
Canada great and noble
What we have built together in Canada is something very great and very noble. A country whose values of tolerance, understanding, generosity have made us what we are: a society where our number one priority is the respect and dignity of all our citizens.
Other countries invest in weapons, we invest in the well-being of our citizens. Other countries tolerate poverty and despair, we work hard to ensure a basic level of decency for everyone. Other countries resort to violence to settle differences, we work out our problems through compromise and mutual respect.
And I say to my fellow Quebecers, don’t let anyone diminish or take away what we have accomplished. Don’t let anyone tell you that you cannot be a proud Quebecer and a proud Canadian.
It is true Canada is not perfect. But I cannot think of a single place in the world that comes closer, not a single place where people lead better lives, where they live in greater peace and security.
Why does Canada work? Because our country has always been able to adapt and change to meet the hopes and aspirations of our citizens. We’ve done so in the past. We’re doing so today. And we will continue to do so in the future.
Quebec as distinct society
We must recognize that Quebec’s language, its culture and institutions make it a distinct society. And no constitutional change that affects the powers of Quebec should ever be made without the consent of Quebecers. And that all governments, federal and provincial, must respond to the desire of Canadians, everywhere, for greater decentralization. And all that can happen quietly, calmly, without rupture, with determination.
To all Canadians outside Quebec, I say do not lose faith in this country. And continue to show the respect, the openness, the attachment, and the friendship you have shown to your fellow Canadians in Quebec all through the referendum campaign.
Continue to tell them how important they are to you, and how without them, Canada would no longer be Canada, how you want them to remain Canadian and you hope, deeply and profoundly, that they choose Canada on Monday.
Ask these questions
Do you really think that you and your family would have a better quality of life and a brighter future in a separate Quebec?
Do you really think that the French language and culture in North America would be better protected in a separate Quebec?
Do you really think you and your family will enjoy greater security in a separate Quebec?
Do you really want to turn your back on Canada? Does Canada deserve that?
Are you really ready to tell the world, the whole world, that people of different languages, different cultures and different backgrounds cannot live together in harmony?
Do you really think that ties of friendship and understanding . . . ties of mutual trust and respect can be broken without harm or rancour?
Have you found one reason, one good reason, to destroy Canada?
Do you really think it is worth abandoning the country we have built, and which our ancestors have left us?
Do you really think it makes make any sense, any sense at all, to break up Canada?
A big responsibility
These are the questions I ask each of you to consider. It’s a big, very big responsibility.
In a few days, all the shouting will be over. And at that moment, you will be alone to make your decision. At that moment I urge you, my fellow Quebecers, to listen to your heart, and to your head.
I am confident that Quebec and Canada will emerge strong and united.
Library and Archives Canada, Jean Chretien, Address to the nation, October 25, 1995
CBC Digital Archives, 1995: Chrétien’s passionate plea for unity
Montreal Gazette: Quebec’s 1995 referendum: 140 minutes of agony
Courtesy of Jean-Marc Carisse