Fearing defeat in the 1995 referendum on Quebec sovereignty, a group of federal ministers from English Canada openly pondered a putsch against former prime minister Jean Chrétien, a CBC documentary says.
Eight days before the Oct. 30, 1995, referendum, when polls indicated that the Yes side was ahead by seven percentage points, about 10 ministers met in a classy restaurant in Hull, across the river from Ottawa, to examine their options in the event of a separatist victory.
In an interview in the CBC documentary Breaking Point: Canada's Referendum, former fisheries minister Brian Tobin said the time had come to examine a previously unthinkable scenario: the breakup of Canada.
"We asked ourselves difficult questions such as: Could a prime minister from Quebec represent Canada in negotiations?" Mr. Tobin said. Could a team from Quebec negotiate on Canada's behalf if the province's left Canada?
"The answer is that they couldn't," Mr. Tobin said. "The structure of government would have to change dramatically."
Many ministers from outside Quebec thought that it would be hard for a prime minister from Quebec to hold onto the leadership.
"If there would have been talks to negotiate the separation of Quebec, the Canadian population would have never accepted that on one side you would have representatives from the province of Quebec and on the other side a Quebecker as the representative of Canada," Mr. Manley stated.
The former ministers indicated that the mood in the rest of Canada would have been so bitter that Ottawa would have had to adopt a tough negotiating strategy with Quebec.
Had the vote gone the other way, Jean Chretien would certainly have been ousted, and he'd have gone down in history as the prime minister who lost the country. Paul Martin, being from Quebec, would not have succeeded him.
Even though the Liberal government had a solid majority in 1995, it might have fallen because of a backbench revolt, or because Chretien's successor might have though it necessary to seek a new electoral mandate to deal with the Quebec question.
The Liberal Party would have stood utterly discredited in the eyes of the Canadian people for having failed to maintain national unity despite decades of concessions to Quebec. Hostility to Quebec would have run at an all-time high. The rest of Canada would have looked for leadership to represent it, and it alone, against Quebec.
Might the Reform Party have broken through to become the party of English Canada? The Progressive Conservative Party was moribund, with 2 MPs, a Quebec leader who would also have been discredited as a failed leader of federalist forces, and heavy baggage from the Mulroney years.
The Reform Party's perceived hostility to Quebec might have been an asset, not a liability, during this period.
Preston Manning might have become Prime Minister in 1996 had Quebec voted for secession. And the country as we know it would have been almost unimaginably different.
Source: Globe and Mail