Francophone-Anglophone Relations | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Francophone-Anglophone Relations

"Two nations warring in the bosom of a single state" was Lord Durham's assessment of the relationship between Lower Canada's French Canadian and British Canadian communities in the 1830s.
Henri Bourassa, publisher
founder of Le Devoir and opponent of Canadian involvement in foreign military adventures, Bourassa inspired the growth of a vigorous nationalism in Quebec (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/C-27360/Henri Bourassa Coll).

"Two nations warring in the bosom of a single state" was Lord Durham's assessment of the relationship between Lower Canada's French Canadian and British Canadian communities in the 1830s. It was an appropriate assessment given that their relationship had turned violent in the Rebellions of 1837-38, which were quickly suppressed by the British military. Observers of the continuing debate over Québec's role within Confederation, and particularly the contemporary Québecois secessionist movement, might be tempted to believe that Durham's assessment can be applied as a general principle to the entirety of the Canadian experience. In fact the character of francophone-anglophone relations over the past 200 years has ebbed and flowed in response to changing socioeconomic, political and ideological factors as well as to the commitment of Canada's majority and minority francophone communities to survival and equality.

Any search for a theme to francophone-anglophone relations must take into account the fact that the francophone community constitutes a linguistic and cultural minority of some 6.5 million people. Today, francophones comprise only 24% of the Canadian population, a decline of nearly 6% since 1900. This is mainly because the majority of immigrants are non-francophone and the birth rate among francophone women has declined. Nevertheless, francophones continue to constitute 82% of Québec's 6.2 million citizens despite the out-migration of nearly one million francophones in the period between 1870 and 1930.

Now that the birthrate among francophones has dropped below the replacement level, contemporary Québecois nationalists feel that their majority position is threatened by an English-speaking minority that constitutes 35% of the population of metropolitan Montréal. Furthermore, when the intellectual and political elites of both communities have proposed and then attempted to reach divergent rather than co-operative social and political goals, the relationship between francophones and anglophones has been severely strained. Francophone and anglophone relations are currently experiencing a degree of tension not seen or felt since the Rebellions of the 1830s.

Relations with the British Colonial Rulers

From 1763 to 1800, the relationship between the British colonial rulers and the traditional clerical and seigneurial leaders of French Canada was tense yet cordial. They shared the same commitment to Ancien Régime values and institutions. Both the Quebec Act of 1774 and the Constitutional Act, 1791 were deliberate attempts to reinforce the existing colonial social and political structures. However, this social contract began to break down after 1800, when Québec's economy and social structure were altered in fundamental ways. By 1820 Montréal was no longer the centre of the fur trade, and the wheat economy of Lower Canada was in the final stages of decline.

The seigneurial class, lacking its traditional access to wealth in the army, in the bureaucracy and in commerce, declined very rapidly after 1800, and the Catholic Church was unprepared at this time to assert control over Québec society (see Seigneurial System). It was into this unstable context that a new francophone professional middle class emerged. This ambitious new class used the ideologies of nationalism and political liberalism to gain control over the Assembly of Lower Canada by 1810, and then began to push for full control over the office of governor and the legislative and executive councils.

When successive governors, with the support of the Anglo-Scottish merchants, refused to share power in any meaningful way, the francophone middle class, under the banner of the Parti patriote, advocated political reforms that would grant it full control over the appointed councils. When British colonial officials rejected these reform proposals, the Parti patriote attempted (1837-38) to seize power through arms. They intended to create an independent French Canadian republic under the presidency of Louis-Joseph Papineau.

The revolt failed because it lacked popular support and strong and courageous leadership, and because of the quick and harsh counter-offensive of well-armed British troops (see Rebellions of 1837). The Parti patriote was left in total disarray and the separatist option was discredited for generations.

In the aftermath of the rebellions, the Durham Report and the Act of Union of 1840 (proclaimed February 1841), which united Upper and Lower Canada in the Province of Canada and placed French Canadian society firmly under the control of an anglophone-controlled assembly and executive councils, the francophone professional middle class divided into 2 groups.

One group, under the leadership of L.H. LaFontaine and E. Parent, pursued a strategy of maximizing the autonomy of French Canada's cultural, social and religious institutions, hoping thereby to undermine the assimilationist intentions of Lord Durham and the British colonial officials. In order to achieve their goal they co-operated with Upper Canadian reformers in the struggle for and achievement of responsible government in 1848.

The second group, comprising remnants of the Parti patriote and a younger generation of nationalists in the Institut canadien and the Parti rouge, rejected the Act of Union and campaigned for its repeal. As committed political nationalists they fought for the creation of a politically autonomous, secular and democratic Québec nation-state.

After the achievement of responsible government in 1848, the reform party of LaFontaine and Parent evolved into the Parti bleu, which under the leadership of Joseph-Édouard Cauchon and George-Étienne Cartier became part of the Conservative Party.

The Conservative Party, with the full support of a reinvigorated Catholic Church, sought to enhance the autonomy of French Canada's cultural, social and religious institutions within the Union of the Canadas. The party also co-operated with the Anglo-Scottish bourgeoisie, represented by the Liberal-Conservative Party of John A. Macdonald, in the pursuit of economic development through the building of railways and the expansion of trade with the US and Great Britain.

By 1865 a political deadlock developed in the Assembly because an increasing majority of Upper Canadians, led by George Brown and his Clear Grit faction, wanted out from under the yoke of a Union dominated by anglophone Montréalers and Cartier's bleus. The deadlock was broken when all members of the Assembly, except those belonging to the rouge movement, agreed to pursue the implementation of a federal system for Upper and Lower Canada or for all the British North American colonies.

Creation of the Province of Québec

After a lengthy and at times heated debate in the Assembly of the Canadas in 1865, the Québec resolutions, which called for the creation of a central government and a number of provinces, including Québec, were passed. Members of the rouge movement objected to the new constitution because, they claimed, it was too centralist and did not guarantee the survival of the francophone community. A slight majority of francophones, convinced by the Conservative Party and a very cautious Catholic Church that the new constitution did offer a significant degree of autonomy to the francophone nationality, supported the federation of 3 British North American colonies into a federation of 4 provinces with the central parliamentary institutions to be located in Ottawa.

During the 1867 federal and provincial elections, the Conservative Party gained 45 of the 65 seats, a clear demonstration of the general support for the new constitutional arrangement. French Canadian secular and clerical leaders were beginning to participate in a small way in the commercial and industrial development of Québec. The modernization of the agricultural sector as well as the industrialization of the province in the last quarter of the century helped the francophone community pursue and achieve some of its cultural, social and political aspirations.

Within 30 years of Confederation, Québec's francophone majority developed a new attitude toward the Canadian federal system, for 2 reasons. First, there was a growing sense of confidence based on economic, cultural and religious renewal and the remarkable demographic expansion of the francophone community in Québec as well as in adjacent communities in the New England states and Ontario.

Second, there was the increasingly difficult plight of the francophone minorities outside the province in New Brunswick, the North-West Territories and Ontario. Discrimination and threats to their continued survival were evidenced by the 1871 abolition of the informal separate schools used by New Brunswick's Acadians; the Red River Rebellion of 1869-70 and the North-West Rebellion of 1885 (which both English- and French-speaking central Canadians interpreted as a struggle between French Catholics and English Protestants over who would determine the character of the West); the 1890 decision of the Manitoba Liberal government to abolish funding for Catholic schools recognized under the Manitoba Act of 1870 (see Manitoba Schools Question); the curtailment of public funding for separate schools in the 1905 Act creating the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan; and, finally, Ontario's Regulation XVII, which undermined an informal system of bilingual separate schools by outlawing the use of French as a language of instruction until the late 1920s (see Ontario Schools Question).

As a result of these crises, Québec's francophone majority increasingly identified with the beleaguered francophone minority communities as they came under attack from an aggressive and vocal English-speaking Canadian society determined to create a strong and homogeneous British Canadian national state.

In fact, many French Canadians felt their society was being forced to choose between provincial rights and minority rights, a choice that was simply not acceptable because provincial autonomy was considered the very root of the survival of the francophone nationality in Canada. In order to resolve this dilemma, a number of prominent francophones, led by Judge T.J.J. Loranger and the journalist and politician Henri Bourassa, began to supplement the "compact of provinces" theory with a "compact of nationalities" theory. It was argued that the concept of 2 nations, or 2 founding peoples, constituted the heart of Confederation.

Consequently, francophone leaders responded to the minority-rights crises by appealing to the federal government to enforce the Constitution; only the full acceptance of a bilingual and bicultural country could prevent renewed and politically divisive attacks on francophone minorities. Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier attempted to apply the "2-nation" concept in his 1897 agreement with Premier Thomas Greenway of Manitoba. The agreement, which provided some restitution for Manitoba's rural Catholics, was abolished in 1916 by the Liberal government of T.C. Norris.

There was even less agreement between French- and English-speaking Canadians over foreign policy, especially the issue of Canada's role in the British Empire. From 1900 to 1920, French Canadian and British Canadian nationalists clashed repeatedly. French Canadian nationalists, led by Henri Bourassa, objected vociferously to Canada's increased participation in imperial schemes, whether economic, political or (especially) military.

Bourassa strongly opposed the participation of Canadian troops in the South African War on the grounds that all forms of imperialism were immoral and that the incident would serve as a precedent for future participation in other British imperial wars. Laurier tried to hold the moderates of both communities together by avoiding commitments and by creating, in 1910, a Canadian navy that could be put at the disposal of the Royal Navy in times of war, but this strategy merely aroused the ire of the nationalists on both sides and contributed to Laurier's downfall in the 1911 election.

The inevitable clash between the 2 sides reached its climax in the 1917 conscription crisis and was symbolized by the formation of Borden's Union government that same year. The conscription issue divided the political parties along ethnic lines, as the vast majority of English-speaking MPs supported conscription and the Union government, while all French Canadian MPs were re-elected as anticonscriptionist Liberals.

The impact of this crisis on anglophone-francophone relations was devastating, especially for the intellectual and political elites of both communities. For the federal Conservative Party it proved a long-term disaster. French Canada's nationalists turned inward, away from Bourassa's goal of achieving a bilingual and bicultural country.

Canon Lionel-Adolphe Groulx and his nationalist colleagues in Action française focused their attention on protecting the French Canadian society of Québec from the onslaught of rapid industrialization and urbanization. They began to think seriously about the growing economic inferiority of French Canadians as individuals and as a collectivity.

The French Canadian professional and commercial middle classes encountered increased competition from English Canadian and American conglomerates. On occasion, out of desperation, Groulx and his colleagues dreamed of an independent, traditional and rural French Canadian nation. Much of their desperation stemmed from the fact that the majority of French Canadians supported the Liberal government's policy of economic expansion through the development of Québec's abundant natural resources, particularly its forests, minerals and hydroelectric potential.

With the Great Depression, the serious economic disadvantages of French Canadians as a community and as individuals were made clear to the public. Some middle-class French Canadians reacted by advocating socioeconomic and political reforms, eg, the creation of co-operatives, state support for francophone entrepreneurs, nationalization of the anglophone hydroelectric companies, regulation of large corporations and "buy-French-Canadian-made-products" campaigns. These measures, they claimed, would shore up traditional French Canadian society while giving middle-class French Canadians greater control over the economic development of Québec.

The Conservative Nationalism of the Union Nationale

The Union Nationale under Maurice Duplessis - made up of old-line Conservatives, disenchanted Liberals and traditional nationalists - took advantage of the nationalist reawakening created by the Depression to defeat the Liberal Party in 1936. Despite English-speaking Canadians' fears, Duplessis, who was essentially a constitutional nationalist, refused to proceed with the economic nationalist reforms championed by the nationalists inside and outside of the party.

His party was defeated in the 1939 provincial election, which he chose to contest on the use of conscription, by the direct intervention of the Liberal Party of Mackenzie King and Ernest Lapointe, King's French Canadian lieutenant. Lapointe and his francophone colleagues had threatened to resign and allow the conscriptionist Conservative Party to take over the federal reins if French Canadians refused to turf out the troublesome Duplessis. In return for a promise of no conscription for overseas service, French Canadians reluctantly agreed to Canadian participation in WWII.

With the fall of France in 1940, the demand for conscription from parts of English-speaking Canada intensified. Prime Minister King hoped to undermine the conscriptionist movement, especially its Tory leader, Arthur Meighen, by holding a plebiscite in which all Canadians would be asked to relieve the federal government of its pledge of no conscription for overseas service. Haunted once again by the threat of conscription, various French Canadian nationalist movements came together in the League for the Defence of Canada to campaign vigorously and successfully for a No vote in the April 1942 plebiscite. An impressive 80% of francophones voted No while nearly as high a percentage of English-speaking Canadians voted Yes. Canada was again divided between 2 linguistic and cultural communities.

King heeded the message and declared that there would be "conscription if necessary, but not necessarily conscription." His government was able to delay the implementation of limited conscription until late in 1944, when a vocal Cabinet minority and rebellious military officers forced King to consent to conscript 16 000 of the home-defence forces, referred to pejoratively as "the Zombies." French Canadian nationalists were incensed, but the decision had come too late to help their movement, the Bloc populaire canadien, during the 1944 provincial election. In the 1945 election, French Canadians helped re-elect the Liberal government.

Anglophone-francophone relations had weathered both the Depression and the war. Both communities had continued to play by the rules established in 1867, while nevertheless continuing to challenge the interpretation of those rules, especially in the areas of taxation and social policy. Between 1945 and 1975 this situation changed dramatically as a result of several factors.

The most important political factor was Ottawa's postwar decision (which was supported by a new generation of English Canadian nationalists) to forge ahead with the creation of a centralized welfare state. Ottawa's predominantly anglophone politicians and bureaucrats argued that the federal government needed full control over all forms of direct taxation to ensure stable economic development and to defray the cost of programs such as employment insurance, family allowances, old-age pensions, and hospital and medical-insurance schemes.

While many provinces rejected Ottawa's proposed new federalism, they were slow to make counter-proposals. Indeed, polls demonstrated that the voters wanted these new programmes. In Québec, however, the French Canadian nationalist movement exerted sufficient pressure on the Duplessis government to ensure that it would reject Ottawa's tax-rental scheme and its more audacious measures, such as federal grants to universities.

For a younger generation of French Canadian nationalists Duplessis's defensive strategy was insufficient. These "neo-nationalists," as they came to be called, led by André Laurendeau, Gérard Filion and Jean-Marc Léger and supported by a new francophone middle class educated in the sciences and social sciences, advocated the creation in Québec of a secular, interventionist state which would undertake the development of natural resources by French Canadians for French Canadians.

Only an active nationalist state could help create an appropriate environment for the emergence of a strong francophone industrial and financial bourgeoisie. In order to ensure that a sufficient number of francophones were prepared to assume control of a modern secular society, the state would proceed with comprehensive modernization of education at all levels, and to ensure that the welfare-state apparatus as it affected Québec was controlled by francophones, neo-nationalists proposed that all social programs be taken over by the Québec government. This exercise of Québec's constitutional prerogatives, both established and new, would require a significant increase in the province's ability to collect taxes.

The socioeconomic changes in Canada that were caused by growing industrialization and urbanization and the influx into Canada of thousands of immigrants who spoke neither English nor French created new strains on French Canadian society. At the heart of the tension lay the realization by francophones that the Catholic Church and the rural way of life could no longer serve as bulwarks against assimilation. They realized that their economic and social future was urban and industrial. The francophone community's search for survival and equality clashed with the postwar national aspirations of English-speaking Canadians, and the stage was set for conflict over available resources and jobs. Moreover, with the rapid secularization of French Canadian society, Catholicism no longer distinguished French Canada from the rest of North America.

With the increased assimilation of francophones outside Québec and the overwhelming integration of all immigrants into Québec's English-speaking community (located primarily in metropolitan Montréal), it was inevitable that language and a new sense of political identity would become the dominant issues in contemporary Québec.

The Quiet Revolution

The defeat (1960) of the Union Nationale by the Liberal Party of Jean Lesage ushered in the Quiet Revolution, which signalled the beginning of a dual struggle: one involving the new middle class's political and socioeconomic battle for greater control over Québec's economic resources, and another involving a bitter and divisive attempt to redefine the role of the francophone society within Canada.

Since the early 1960s successive Québec governments have tried to change the socieconomic relationship between that province's francophone majority and its English-speaking minorities. In the first stage of the Quiet Revolution, the Lesage government modernized and expanded the public and para-public sectors to provide employment for the postwar baby boom generation of highly educated francophones.

The Lesage government then took aim at the predominantly anglophone-controlled large private-sector corporations. In 1964 it nationalized all private hydroelectric companies. As a result, Hydro-Québec (established 1944) became one of the largest crown corporations in North America. Francophones were able to work entirely in French and to develop their technical, scientific and managerial skills, a process which also occurred in the fields of education, social welfare and health services, and in the government bureaucracy in all departments and at all levels.

French Canada's attempt to redefine its role within Canada has produced vigorous public debate and considerable political turmoil over the past 4 decades. In their 1965 royal commission preliminary report on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, the commissioners stated that Canada was in the midst of its most serious political crisis since Confederation. Beginning in 1963, several bombs had been set off in Montréal mail boxes, and 2 separatist parties were successfully recruiting francophone university students. By the mid-1960s a wide variety of proposals for restructuring, renewing and even dismantling the Canadian federal system were forthcoming.

Drawing upon the recommendations of the Tremblay Commission Report of 1956, many Québec neo-nationalists advocated the entrenchment, in a renewed Constitution, of "special status" for the province of Québec, while others demanded a form of "associate-state" status. In fact, by 1966 the political parties were leapfrogging one another in a desperate attempt to keep pace with the nationalist momentum sweeping Québec.

Daniel Johnson, the leader of the Union Nationale, issued an ultimatum to Ottawa in a small pamphlet entitled "Equality or Independence." Special or associate-state status would entail very extensive decentralization of what was considered by many Canadians already a far too decentralized federal system. In reaction to this cool response, a significant number of neo-nationalists began to claim that only outright independence of Québec could ensure the survival of the francophone nationality.

By the mid-1960s, the neo-nationalists encountered opposition from all national parties and a number of prominent francophones such as Jean Marchand, Pierre Elliott Trudeau and Gérard Pelletier. These so-called "wise men" had been recruited by the Liberal Party of Prime Minister Lester Pearson to enhance francophone participation in the national government and help Ottawa head off potentially dangerous political clashes with Québec's increasingly neo-nationalist-inspired, and in some cases separatist-oriented, political parties and successive governments.

The federal forces, under Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, proposed a 2-fold strategy: to enhance the full participation of francophones in all national institutions through a policy of official bilingualism and to insert into a renewed Constitution a Charter of Rights and Freedoms that would guarantee individual rights as well as the rights of Canada's 2 official linguistic communities. The first goal was achieved in 1969 with the passing of the Official Languages Act; the second objective was accomplished with the Constitution Act, 1982 (see Patriation of the Constitution), which incorporated a Charter of Rights and Freedoms and a general amending formula based on 7 provinces comprising over 50% of the Canadian population.

Québec presented the major obstacle in the path of a renewed Constitution. The new liberal leader and premier of Québec by 1970, Robert Bourassa, attempted to secure increased provincial powers in the area of social policy in return for his government's consent to patriate the Constitution with a limited Charter of Rights. When Bourassa failed to accomplish his goal, neo-nationalist pressures forced him to reject the 1971 Victoria Charter.

The Parti Québécois

In 1976 the Parti Québécois, committed to the achievement of political independence for Québec, was elected. The PQ government moved quickly to accomplish its election promises, especially in the highly sensitive area of language legislation. When it had become apparent by the late 1950s that room for expansion in the public sector was not infinite, pressure had begun to build in nationalist circles for language legislation making French the dominant language of work in both the private and public sector.

In 1974 the Liberal government of Robert Bourassa implemented Bill 22, under which French was declared the official language of Québec and all immigrants arriving in Québec were enrolled in French-language schools. While this legislation was considered too radical by Québec's anglophone and allophone communities because it rescinded their longstanding freedom to choose, it did not go far enough for an increasingly vocal minority of francophones who claimed Bill 22 had too many loopholes which allowed allophone parents to send their children to English-language schools and did little to ensure that French would become the effective language of work for all Québec's citizens.

In response to strong and widespread nationalist pressure inside and outside the party, the Parti Québécois-dominated assembly passed Bill 101, known as the Charter of the French Language, which made French the only official language of Québec, established a schedule for making French the dominant language of work and stipulated that all immigrants entering Québec from other parts of Canada and the world must enrol their children in French-language schools.

These developments considerably heightened the tension in anglophone-francophone relations, not only in Québec but throughout Canada. The federal Liberal Party, after its re-election to office in 1980, campaigned hard to ensure a defeat of the PQ-sponsored referendum requesting that Québecois grant the PQ government a mandate to negotiate Sovereignty-Association.

The Trudeau government's decision to pursue the patriation of the Constitution with an amendment formula and an entrenched Charter of Rights was prompted by the victory of the federalist forces in the Québec referendum campaign. The Constitution Act, 1982 was approved by Ottawa and all the provinces except Québec. Secessionists charged that Québec had been stabbed in the back by Ottawa and the provinces. This powerful myth further soured what were already very tenuous relations between francophones and anglophones.

The tragedy was that, in the process of political manoeuvring, the Québec government of René Levesque had agreed with 7 other provinces to relinquish its traditional veto over constitutional changes crucial to the survival of the French Canadian nationality. A process of constitutional renewal set in motion largely in response to the new needs of Québec resulted in an agreement which could, under the appropriate set of circumstances, create new tensions and even overt hostility between Canada's 2 linguistic communities.

Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords

While the PQ government was re-elected in 1981, it was weakened by internal battles and was soundly defeated by Robert Bourassa's Liberal Party in 1985. Bourassa committed his government to signing the Constitution Act if certain demands were met by Ottawa and the provinces. These 5 minimum demands included the constitutional recognition of Québec as a "distinct society" with the right to protect and promote that distinctiveness; the right to opt-out with full financial compensation of all national programs in areas of provincial jurisdiction; an amendment formula giving Québec a veto over all major constitutional reforms; a guarantee of increased powers over immigration; and finally, some input into the appointment of judges to the Supreme Court.

On 30 April 1987, after months of behind-the-scenes negotiations, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney's government announced the Meech Lake Accord (see Meech Lake Accord: Document). The Accord, which granted all the provinces 4 of Québec's 5 demands, was pronounced acceptable by the NDP and Liberal parties but was vigorously denounced by ex-PM Trudeau and several regional and national organizations. For the latter, the Accord diminished the prerogatives of the national government, undermined Canadians' sense of patriotism and set in motion an irreversible trend toward increased provincial autonomy with "special status" for Québec.

To take effect, the Accord required ratification by all 10 provinces and both Houses of Parliament by June 1990. Governments in 3 provinces - New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Manitoba - changed hands, and their newly elected premiers, respectively Frank McKenna, Clyde Wells and Gary Filmon, refused to ratify the Accord unless substantive amendments were accepted by all governments. Within 2 years, Premier Wells of Newfoundland had become the lightning rod for widespread public outrage at the Accord's process and its contents, especially the interpretative distinct society clause, which Canadians feared would allow successive Québec governments to achieve through Supreme Court decisions constitutional special status for Québec.

Despite majority public opposition to the Accord, Mulroney and 7 premiers pressured the 3 premiers at a June 1990 meeting in Ottawa to accept the unaltered Meech Lake Accord with the promise of future amendments. To everyone's surprise Filmon was prevented from ratifying the Accord in the Manitoba legislature by a Native MP, Elijah Harper, who denied the necessary unanimous consent for procedural changes. Once the Accord died in the Manitoba assembly it was futile for Wells to pursue ratification. The Accord's contradictory "provincial" and "2-nations" compacts were rejected by the public on the grounds that one or both of the theories would render the federation virtually ungovernable.

The Accord's demise set off a momentous political crisis in the province of Québec. The Québecois nationalists and secessionists blamed English-speaking Canada for its demise. The crisis was accelerated when Mulroney and Bourassa decided to support and use this interpretation of events to force reluctant Canadians to accept a new and expanded version of the Meech Lake Accord.

Bourassa directed the constitutional committee of the Québec Liberal party to produce a constitutional blueprint, known as the Allaire Report, which promoted a wholesale devolution of powers to the provinces. He also created the bi-partisan Bélanger-Campeau commission, which quickly became dominated by the Parti Québécois and other secessionist appointees. The commission recommended that the government hold forthwith a referendum on the secession of Québec from Canada. To regain control over the situation, Bourassa had the National Assembly pass Bill 150, which called upon the government to hold a referendum in October 1992. The referendum question would be on independence or on an acceptable package of constitutional reforms from the rest of Canada.

Despite the public's clear objection to another round of mega-constitutional politics, Mulroney renewed his alliance with Bourassa in late 1991 and opened negotiations with a new set of proposals entitled "Shaping Canada's Future Together." Eventually a Joint Committee of the House of Commons and the Senate produced a report in February 1992 called "A Renewed Canada." The report proposed an expanded version of the Meech Lake Accord. Joe Clark, minister of federal-provincial relations, chaired a volatile series of multilateral meetings on the Constitution, including Ottawa, 9 premiers and representatives from Canada's 4 national Aboriginal organizations. They cobbled together what became known as the Pearson Report in early July 1992. The report was a combination of a revised Meech Lake Accord with an elected but powerless Senate and a separate comprehensive Aboriginal constitutional package. Bourassa agreed to sign onto the Charlottetown Consensus Report in September 1992 when he was granted in perpetuity 25% of the seats for Québec in the House of Commons, the Québec government's right to appoint its own senators and some limitations on the Aboriginal package.

The first national referendum on the amendment of the Canadian constitution was held on 26 October 1992. By early October it was clear that the Charlottetown deal was doomed. Bourassa lost the support of the nationalist wing of the Liberal Party, which joined the Parti Québécois and Bloc Québécois secessionist No forces led by Jacques Parizeau and Lucien Bouchard. They scored political points by demonstrating that the new accord offered far less than the Meech Accord and that the Aboriginal organizations had obtained a form of sovereignty-association denied to Québec. In the rest of the country, the Charlottetown deal was rejected in most provinces for the same reasons Canadians had rejected the Meech deal. As well, the West had failed to obtain its Triple "E" Senate while having to accept a guarantee of 25% of the seats in the House of Commons to Québec.

Just at the moment when the tide was turning against the Charlottetown deal, Trudeau entered the national debate by denouncing the new accord and accelerating the public's move to the No side. Despite a heavily funded Yes campaign and a disorganized and underfunded No campaign, the Charlottetown package was defeated by 54.4% to 44.6%. It was rejected by a majority of citizens in Nova Scotia, Québec, and 4 western provinces while Ontario voters were evenly split.

It was the second major humiliating defeat for the Mulroney-Bourassa alliance and sealed the political fate of both leaders. An ailing Bourassa left political life, ill with terminal cancer, and shortly after died. Mulroney was forced to step down as prime minister in 1993. His successor, Kim Campbell, took the brunt of the public wrath in the October 1993 national election in which the Conservative party was reduced from 169 to 2 seats.

The gulf between anglophone Canadians and francophone Canadians was wider than at any other time since the Conscription crisis of 1917. In Québec, Lucien Bouchard's secessionist Bloc Québécois won 54 of the province's 75 seats, undermining the old Liberal bastion and destroying Mulroney's fragile Tory coalition. Conversely, Preston Manning's neo-conservative and populist Reform Party, with its roots in the political culture of Western alienation, elected 52 MPs mostly in British Columbia and Alberta.

In 1994 Parti Québécois leader Jacques Parizeau easily defeated the Québec Liberal Party led by Daniel Johnson, even while promising to hold a referendum on the outright secession of Québec within a year. When it appeared that Parizeau's hard question on secession would be rejected by francophone voters, Lucien Bouchard - with the support of Mario Dumont, the former Québec Liberal turned founder of the Action Démocratique du Québec - convinced Parizeau to hold a referendum on the concept of sovereignty-partnership with Canada in the fall of 1995. If Canada refused to negotiate an economic association with an independent Québec following a majority vote then Québec would unilaterally declare its independence from Canada.

At the outset of the referendum campaign it appeared that the federalist forces were set to win by a significant margin. Prime Minister Jean Chrétien gave control over strategy and tactics to the No committee headed up by Daniel Johnson and Jean Charest. Convinced that the secessionist forces faced a humiliating defeat, Parizeau allowed Bouchard to take charge of the Yes campaign and named him chief negotiator with Canada if the secessionist forces won. Within a week of the vote private polls showed that the secessionist forces were leading by as much as 56% to 44%. The federalist forces were in total disarray as political observers predicted that Parizeau would move quickly to declare Québec's independence. A shocked Chrétien took charge of the campaign, promising the Québecois a veto over all major constitutional changes and recognition of Québec as a distinct society. When Québec citizens cast their votes the result was a veritable cliff hanger: Just over 50% voted No while just under 50% voted Yes, with some 50 000 votes declared invalid for a variety of questionable reasons. A dismayed and angry Parizeau declared that "money and the ethnic vote" had robbed Québecois of their independence. Discredited in the eyes of many francophones, Parizeau was replaced by Lucien Bouchard as head of the Parti Québécois government.

The Chrétien government belatedly realized that it had to be much better prepared to deal with the secessionists and their more than formidable leader, Bouchard. The federal government tried to patch up relations with Québec's francophones by passing a bill that granted all 5 regions of Canada, including Québec, a veto over all future constitutional changes. The government also passed a resolution supporting the concept of Québec as a distinct society. Chrétien also urged the premiers to pass the Calgary Declaration, which recognized Québec as a unique society. They complied but added the important prerequisite that all provinces were equal and that whatever the Québec government might get through the interpretative unique society clause they would also receive.

After much hesitation, the Chrétien government agreed to refer Québec's claim to an absolute right to declare unilaterally its independence to the Supreme Court of Canada. The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Québec did not have the right either under Canadian constitutional law or under international law to secede unilaterally from Canada. The 9 justices did, however, offer the opinion that if Québec voters demonstrated a clear, and not just a simple, majority on a straightforward question on outright secession, then Ottawa and the other provinces would have an obligation to enter into negotiations with the government of Québec. They also pointed out that there was no guarantee that such negotiations would succeed or that the territory of the province of Québec would remain intact if the negotiations succeeded since the rights of the majority had to respect those of the various minorities.

In was in this highly charged context that Premier Bouchard sought a renewed mandate for his Parti Québécois government on 30 November 1998. The election results illustrated once again the reluctance of the Québecois to experience another divisive and most likely inconclusive referendum. The Parti Québécois, facing a divided and somewhat disorganized Québec Liberal party led by Jean Charest, won 77 seats with only 43% of the vote. Charest's Liberals won 47 seats with over 44% of the vote. The spoiler was Mario Dumont's Action Démocratique party whose 125 candidates garnered nearly 12% of the votes, primarily from disenchanted Parti Québécois voters. Only one seat was won, however, that of Dumont. A dispirited Bouchard declared that he did not foresee the holding of another referendum for at least 2 years and would, in the interim, focus his energies on balancing the Québec budget and restoring funding to education, social welfare and health programs.

See also October Crisis; Québec Since Confederation.