What a movie it would make!
October 30 marked the 25th anniversary of the 1995 referendum on Quebec independence. It was the largest voter turnout in Quebec's history and the "No" option squeaked by with just 50.58 per cent. Below is the reaction from our founder, the late Art Mantell, published the edition after the big vote.
What a movie it would make!
I can see it now: “Referendum!” starring Paul Newman as the prime minister of an embattled country who almost loses his nation to an evil charlatan (Anthony Hopkins) hiding behind a saint-like demagogue (Michael Douglas), whose well-intentioned but feeble efforts are salvaged by a last-minute crusade led by a golden-haired outsider (Tom Cruise).
Movie goers would be riveted to their seats, their half-eaten popcorn forgotten in their laps as “Referendum” reached its cliffhanger ending after a heart-pounding, emotional rollercoaster of a cinematic ride that, alternatively, plumbed the depths of despair and scaled the heights of happiness.
If only it was a movie. We could get up out of our seats, brush off the popcorn crumbs and go out of the theatre into the familiar night. Alas, it is not a movie. It is real life and we can't emerge from it and resume normal life. Why? Because the losers in this drama have no intention of going away. They plan to put us through the emotional grinder as soon as it is legislatively possible.
The cost? Probably everything this country has by the time the separatists are through. Certainly everything the province of Quebec has in the way of cashable assets. While other levels of government have embarked on debt restructuring programs, Quebec has put such measures on hold while its government fights to get out of the nation. Its premier, in an interview prior to the referendum result but held until after the polls closed, boasted that he had earmarked billions of government agency and pension fund money to prop up the Canadian dollar in the event of a “Yes” win.
Well “Yes” didn't win and the premier has announced he is quitting at year-end — not because of his cavalier style of financing, but because he let his racist side show publicly. If there was anything positive for Canadian nationalists (now there's a term we haven't used before the huge Montreal federalist rally) apart from the razor thin “No” majority, it was the brutal post-referendum unveiling of the racist side of the Parti Quebecois and the horrified reactions of most of its supports to its exposure. One Quebec columnist opined that the racism issue was the dominant, post-referendum subject and all but overshadowed the result itself.
On a personal level, I am suffering from rejection.
After a lifetime of studious non-involvement in all organizations from service to political (with one youthful exception), I decided the referendum was too close to call. It was time to take a position. A time to stand up and be counted. It was time to volunteer.
I called the “No” side office and left my name and phone number, after saying that I was prepared to help in any way possible.
They never called back.