The Quebec Independence Movement, Explained

Written By Yuge Politics - June 10th, 2017

Quebec, which was once a part of New France (1), is the massive Canadian Province known for its French Speaking Population. Out of the estimated 8.18 Million people living in Quebec (2), 78% of the population living in Quebec speaks French as their primary language (3). This Francophone majority in Quebec is not a national trend, as the rest of Canada only has an estimated total of less than a million Primary Francophone speakers. This Franco-English divide between the Province of Quebec and the rest of Canada has sparked many separatist movements in Quebec, and this movement continues to live on even today.

So when did this movement begin? The first Political Group advocating for the independence of Quebec was the Alliance Laurentienne, which was established in 1957 by Raymond Barbeau (4). Although the Alliance Laurentienne was the initial flame of independence, the movement didn’t spark the political momentum that it needed to make the idea of independence an actual issue. The Rassemblement pour l'Indépendance Nationale (RIN), which was established in 1960, was a little bit more successful in promoting the independence of Quebec. In the 1966 provincial election in Quebec, the RIN garnered 5.55% of the popular vote, but zero seats in the Legislative Assembly. During the same general period of time the Ralliement National (RN), which was another separatist movement, gained traction and garnered 3.2% of the vote in the same election. Although the RN was also unsuccessful in getting any seats in the Legislative Assembly, the movement of independence was clearly gaining momentum in Quebec.

The only way for a successful independence movement in Quebec was the unification of all political allies of it. This need for unification led to the development of the Mouvement Souveraineté-Association (MSA), which was formed in 1967 by René Lévesque. The fact that René Lévesque was part of Jean Lesage’s cabinet, the Quebec Liberal premier of Quebec from 1960 to 1966, made the Separatist Movement in Quebec gain more moderate support. With the momentum of the independence movement in Quebec, the MSA and RN decided to join forces to form the Parti Québécois (PQ). Other pro-independence political parties, such as the RIN, lost their importance because of the PQ, and were dissolved. The PQ had succeeded in the very important task of the unification of the independence movement in Quebec.

At the beginning the Parti Québécois gained very small amounts of success in the National Assembly, but continued to gain popular support. In the 1970 provincial election the PQ garnered an impressive 23.5% of the popular vote, but a mere 7 seats in the National Assembly. In the 1973 provincial election the Parti Québécois gained 30.2% of the popular votes, but only a disappointing 6 seats (5). Although the PQ was suffering devastating loses in the National Assembly, the popular vote trend was looking very favorably for the PQ, and in the 1976 provincial election it finally paid off for the Quebec Nationalists. In 1976 the PQ was finally victorious against the Liberal Party, with the PQ getting 41.4% of the vote, and a massive 71 seats in the National Assembly. The PQ had finally gained the political majority in the Quebec National Assembly, and with it they could start passing the pro-separatist legislation that they had promised.

When the Parti Québécois gained political power after the 1976 provincial election it had started to pass it’s Nationalist and pro-separatist agenda. After passing Bill 101 (6), which made French the official language of Quebec, the Parti Québécois started to get into the talks of an independence referendum (7). The main opposition to the Parti Québécois was Canada’s Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, who completely opposed the idea of an independent Quebec. The PQ hit a chord of luck with Trudeau losing to Joe Clark in the 1979, and soon after the referendum was put into place by Quebec Premier René Lévesque (9), and was to be held on May 20th, 1980. At the beginning the PQ was poised to win the Quebec referendum, and in doing so enabling Quebec to become its own sovereign nation, but a couple of major events before the referendum led the PQ to lose by a 19% point margin. The two main turning points of the referendum were when a minister of the PQ attacked the opposition leaders wife, and when PM Trudeau gave an emotional speech 6 days before the referendum took place. The Parti Québécois lost the 1980 referendum, but the idea of independence was still very much a reality.

Main Points

Sources

The Canadian Encyclopedia (1)

World Population Review (2)

The Canadian Encyclopedia (3)

McCord Museum (4)

The Canadian Encyclopedia (5)

The Canadian Encyclopedia (6)

Canada History (7)

The Canadian Encyclopedia (8)

CBC News (9)

Britannica (10)

National Post (11)

CBC News (12)

Global News (13)

Montreal Gazette (14)