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Québec Referendum (1980)

The Québec referendum of 1980, on the Parti Québécois government’s plans for sovereignty-association, was held in fulfilment of a promise that the party had made to do so, during the 1976 election campaign that brought it to power. In this referendum, the government asked the people of Québec to give it a mandate to “negotiate a new constitutional agreement with the rest of Canada, based on the equality of nations.” When the votes were counted, nearly 60% of Quebecers had voted against this plan, and it was thereby rejected. If the “Yes” side had won, the results of the negotiations would have been submitted to a second referendum. The 1980 referendum was followed by constitutional negotiations that have left an indelible mark on the Canadian political scene.

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Front de libération du Québec (FLQ)

The Front de libération du Québec (FLQ) was a militant Quebec independence movement that used terrorism to try and achieve an independent and socialist Quebec. FLQ members — or felquistes — were responsible for more than 200 bombings and dozens of robberies between 1963 and 1970 that left six people dead. Their actions culminated in the kidnapping of British trade commissioner James Cross and the kidnapping and subsequent murder of Quebec cabinet minister Pierre Laporte, in what became known as the October Crisis.

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Meech Lake Accord

In 1987, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney attempted to win Quebec’s consent to the revised Canadian Constitution. The result was the Meech Lake Accord. It was an agreement between the federal and provincial governments to amend (change) the Constitution. The Accord proposed strengthening provincial powers and declaring Quebec a “distinct society.” The Accord was never put into effect. Political support for it unravelled in 1990. Many Québécois saw the Accord’s failure in English Canada as a rejection of Quebec. Support for separatism soared in Quebec and led to the 1995 Quebec Referendum.

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Sovereignty

Sovereignty is an abstract legal concept. It also has political, social and economic implications. In strictly legal terms, sovereignty describes the power of a state to govern itself and its subjects. In this sense, sovereignty is the highest source of the law. With Confederation and the passage of the British North America Act, 1867, Canada’s Parliament was still legally under the authority of the British Parliament. By 1949, Canada had become fully sovereign in relation to Great Britain. This was due to landmark legislation such as the Statute of Westminster (1931). The Constitution Act, 1982 swept away Britain’s leftover authority. Questions of sovereignty have also been raised by Indigenous peoples in Canada and by separatists in Quebec. The latter, for a time, championed the concept of sovereignty-association.