Parti Québécois 1980
Source: Francois Brousseau, La voix de René Lévesque. Fides, Montreal, 2002;
Translated: for marxists.org by Mitch Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) marxists.org 2005.
In the second half of his first term in office, René Lévesque, Prime Minister of Quebec and founder of the Parti Québécois (PQ), called for a referendum that would lead to independence for the province. On May 20,1980 the referendum was held, and the results were a crushing blow for the PQ: 59.5% no, 40.5% yes. An exhausted Lévesque addressed a crowd of supporters that evening.
My dear friends, if I understand you correctly, you're saying: “until the next time.” But in the meanwhile, with the same serenity with which we conducted ourselves during the campaign, we have to swallow the defeat this time...it’s not easy. I apologize for having waited to come here to see you. I have to admit that we continued to hope for a while... because it’s...I have to tell you, it’s tough, it hurts more, it hurts more deeply than any other electoral defeat, and I know what I'm talking about.
I ask of you... I'd like... I have to ask that you listen a little bit to what we have to tell ourselves at the end of the campaign. Let us admit that it’s clear that the ball is now in the federalist camp. The people of Quebec have just clearly given it another chance. In the weeks and months to come it will be up to the federalists and above all M. Trudeau... it will be up to them to give content to the promises they have multiplied over the last 35 days. They all proclaimed that if the “no” carried the day then the status quo was dead and buried and that the Québécois would have nothing to regret.
While waiting to see what is going to follow, this victory of the “no.” even if I must repeat... because we'll remember from this point of view, that it’s not very promising on the level either of content or of methods, and in particular the scandalously immoral campaign of the federal itself, the campaign by which all the rules of the game that were agreed upon among Québécois were walked over without the least hesitation, — this victory of the “no,” despite it all, it has to be accepted.
But also, in the name of the immense majority of the rising generation, and of those already of age in Quebec today, and also little by little among the Québécois of other backgrounds of the same generations, the victors must be put on notice from this evening, seriously on notice against any temptation to claim to have crushed us and to claim to impose on us any kind of changes they want that are not as much in conformity as possible with those demanded by Quebec for almost 40 years. In any event, until the next elections I can assure you that the government is going to attempt to be as vigilant as ever, so that at least all the current rights of Quebec are respected and that any change not make any claim to infringe in any way on that margin of autonomy which Quebec, through great difficulties, has managed to assure to itself.
And now, to all those women and men who made this admirable campaign for the “yes” which will remain, for whoever participated in it, the most unforgettable memory of fervor, honesty, justified pride and, despite the slanders, of a fraternal pride open to others, I say to you: keep the memory, but keep hope as well. Since we must, let us accept the results, but don’t ever lose sight of an objective as legitimate, as universally recognized among peoples and nations as political equality: it will come.
Today, from the depths of the my conscience and the confidence that I also have in the evolution of Quebec that is going to continue forward, it must be said that this May 20, 1980 will perhaps remain as one of the final glimmerings of the old Quebec that must be respected. We are a family that is very obviously still divided from this point of view. But I'm confident that one day there will be a normal rendezvous with history that Quebec will keep, and I'm confident that we'll all be there together to participate in it.
But I admit that tonight I'd have a hard time telling you when or how. The only thing I want to add is this: with the same fundamental confidence in us, and taking into account that tomorrow we have to continue to live together, and that it’s extremely obvious that there are great divisions among us, can we finish up this evening by singing for everyone that which remains the most beautiful song from Quebec to all, without exception, to all the people from our home? If someone would like to start it up, “Gens du pays.” Me, I don’t have any voice left.