"C'est vrai, c'est vrai qu'on a été battus, au fond,
par quoi? Par l'argent puis des votes
On October 30, 1995,
then-Quebec premier Jacques Parizeau walked onto a Quebec City stage
and gave what remains to this day the most infamous concession speech
in Canada's history. The pro-sovereignty camp had just narrowly lost
the 1995 Quebec sovereignty referendum -- 50.58 per cent to 49.42
The camp's two other leaders, federal Bloc Quebecois
leader Lucien Bouchard and lone Action Democratique du Quebec MNA
Mario Dumont had already conceded defeat earlier in the evening.
had invoked the image of former premier Rene Levesque, whose
concession speech after the 1980 referendum on Quebec sovereignty had
been a rallying point for the bruised movement. "Si je vous ai bien
compris, vous êtes en train de dire: à la prochaine fois," he'd said.
(In other words, "If I understand you correctly, you are saying: until the next time.")
"next time" had been an exhausting battle, filled with raw emotion on
both sides. The result was as close as close could be, with Canadians
watching in shock as the "oui" side first took a lead, and the two
sides hit an even 50-50 split. There had been accusations throughout
the campaign that the "non" side had broken several laws, including
those surrounding campaign spending. The 1995 Canadian Unity Rally,
"oui" supporters said, was one such violation that went unpunished.
"oui" side had focused on appealing to all the Quebecois, regardless of
their cultural or ethnic backgrounds, religion or even language.
Determined to get every vote possible, they explained that it was
perfectly all right for anglophones to support sovereignty.
Sovereignty was not about hating Canada, they said, but about loving
Quebec. All that "pure laine" stuff that had spouted from the mouths
of the movement's most prominent leaders was bunk, right? Right.
the major networks began projecting a "non" victory, Parizeau's
advisers began drafting his concession speech. The other two leaders
would speak as well, of course, but their speeches would be drafted by
their own advisers -- and as premier and leader of the separatist
Parti Quebecois, Parizeau's speech was going to be the big one. The
original message stressed unity and the need to fight even harder next
time to secure victory.
Parizeau arrived on stage
with his wife, Lisette Lapointe, to a thunderous ovation from the
otherwise distraught crowd. As he waited for the noise to die down, the
assembled masses began to sing Gens du pays, the folk song by Quebec
songwriter Gilles Vigneault that had become an anthem of the
sovereigntist movement. Parizeau joined in, then began his speech.
seemed to be going normally. Parizeau's top aide, Jean-Francois Lisée,
was standing near the back of the hall with his press secretary when he
heard the premier veer off track. Lisée would later tell CBC documentarians that he heard Parizeau use
"nous," the French word for "us," in reference solely to French-Canadians, and he knew they were in trouble.
"On va parler de nous à 60 pour cent. On a voté pour."
("We'll talk about 60 per cent of us. We voted in favour.")
went on to suggest that the next time, the sovereigntists should just
aim their efforts at French speakers, because that's how they'd win.
Political suicide in six words or less
a minute later: "C'est vrai, c'est vrai qu'on a été battus, au fond,
par quoi? Par l'argent puis des votes
("It's true, it's true we were beaten, yes, but by what? By money and the ethnic vote, essentially.")
statement was greeted with subdued applause -- not as much as the man's
arrival or the early results showing the "oui" side in the lead, of
course, but rather substantial applause considering what the man had
just said. Lisée, mortified, later reflected that his gut reaction was
to get the hell out of the building and that he was in
the process of doing so when he ran into Parizeau, who apparently
interpreted the look of sheer horror on his top strategist's face
correctly and asked him if he felt his speech was "too harsh."
said, 'you bet it's too harsh,'" he told the CBC during an interview
for Breaking Point, a documentary released on the referendum's 10th
anniversary. "'You were worried about being insulted, now you're going
to be insulted.'"
Parizeau, of course, was
insulted. The "oui" camp had denounced his remarks moments after they
got out. Major network coverage focused on them for the rest of the
night. My dad, to this day, tells the story of how he was watching the
speech live on CTV, which for some reason wasn't translating it into
English simultaneously, when he could swear he thought he heard the man
blame his loss on money and ethnic voters.
"Then Lloyd Robertson came on and said 'Did he just say money and the ethnic vote?"
called a press conference for the next day, where he resigned as leader
of the Parti Quebecois and as premier of Quebec. He faced questions
about whether his comments were the result of alcohol consumption
that night (footage of him pacing the hotel room in which he watched
the results, drink in hand, were all over the networks even before he
gave the speech). He said it was not.
He never apologized for the remarks.
years later, when he participated in the CBC's documentary, he said
that his comments were made out of anger and spite at the result, not
at anger and spite at any particular group. He went on to say that the
first person he blamed was himself. That may be the case, but even if
it is, he blamed himself privately and then proceeded to blame some
rather controversial things publicly.
was a massive project on the part of the CBC. It was produced both in
English and in French, and released as both a two-part documentary
and a book. The documentary's editing is among the best I've ever seen.
As Parizeau gives his speech and his infamous, career-ending line
nears, the editors decide that we need to instead see the
fleur-de-lys-adorned faces of some of the "oui" supporters, who
spanned many, many cultural, ethnic and religious groups, sulking at
the reality of their loss.
And then we see their faces after their leader blamed that loss on two things: money and the ethnic vote.
"This sounds too ridiculous to be true," you say. Well, thanks to the miracle of the internet, you can see Parizeau's entire speech, career-ending statement and all, on YouTube. It is entirely in French, of course, without subtitles or translation,
but you can follow along with the transcript in the information field.
Cardinal, Mario. Breaking Point: Quebec/Canada - the 1995 Referendum.
CBC. 2005. (Book)
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Breaking Point: Quebec/Canada - the 1995 Referendum.