The Referendum Papers: Essays on Secession and National Unity


430 pages
Contains Bibliography
ISBN 0-8020-4449-2
DDC 320.471




Edited by David R. Cameron
Reviewed by Graeme S. Mount

Graeme S. Mount is a professor of history at Laurentian University. He
is the author of Canada’s Enemies: Spies and Spying in the Peaceable
Kingdom and The History of Fort St. Joseph, and the co-author of
Invisible and Inaudible in Washington: American


After the close call in the 1995 Quebec referendum, the C.D. Howe
Institute commissioned a series of scholars to consider what had been
the unthinkable—Quebec secession. Under what circumstances should it
be allowed to happen? What role, if any, should the rest of Canada (ROC)
play? What should the ROC do after Quebec secession? The scholars wrote
papers, ten of which appear here—five on the terms of secession and
five on its aftermath.

Included in the first category are submissions by Roger Gibbins of the
University of Calgary and John Richards of Simon Fraser University.
Gibbins argues that given the failure of proposals for massive
constitutional change (Meech Lake and Charlottetown), changes now should
be incremental; as well, attempts to placate Quebec should not leave
Quebec in a position to block changes desired by the West. Richards
notes that except in pockets of Ontario and New Brunswick, the French
language is disappearing from the ROC. Attempts to protect it in Quebec
are therefore reasonable. Admittedly, without Bill 101, Montreal would
not have lost so many head office jobs to the ROC. Those head offices,
however, would have functioned in English and attracted anglophone and
allophone employees, thereby making Montreal much less French than it
is. The strength of English in Montreal might have jeopardized French
everywhere else.

Various writers insist that before Quebec secedes, there must be a
clear affirmative majority on a clear question. A team led by Osgoode
Hall Professor Patrick J. Monahan states: “The longer the federal
government waits before beginning to systematically contradict
misleading sovereigntist claims, the more it appears to be giving tacit
approval to them.” Monahan et al. studied 89 constitutions of other
countries, not one of which allowed a unilateral declaration of
independence by a component part. Seven of these provided for secession,
but four of the seven required that the entire nation be given the right
to vote. And the borders of the seceding part would not necessarily
remain as they had been.

The book’s only serious weakness is the absence of an index.


“The Referendum Papers: Essays on Secession and National Unity,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 15, 2024,