Let me start by saying that my goal is not to open a can of worms. The goal of this series is two-fold. First is to inform those who know little about the situation here in Quebec much like I did 12 years ago before I met my future wife. Second is to hear others take on the situation. I come to this country primarily from the francophone side. I am interested to know truly how the anglophone or allophones feel in Canada, inside and outside Quebec.
If you would like to know the whole story, the Wikipedia page is a good place to start. To save some reading (It has taken me a while and I'm not done), here is my attempt at a summary.
One of the basic principles behind the sovereignty movement is seen in the Constitutional Debate of Canada. Quebec is a distinct culture and has a distinct national identity within Canada. One side of the debate suggests that Quebec should have an equal standing in Canada. The other suggests that special provisions should be made for Quebec within Canada due to it's uniqueness. The current situation floats somewhere between. One side says Quebec has too many special provisions while the other says not enough.
Quebec is the only province that has not ratified the Constitution Act of 1982. There have been many attempts to implement provisions that would address Quebec as a distinct society so they could ratify the act. The Meech Lake Accord (1987) and the Charlottetown Accord (1992) are a couple of these attempts. While each were accepted by a good percentage of the population, there were enough no votes inside and outside Quebec to prevent them from passing.
From Wikipedia: "Although it is primarily a political question, cultural concerns are also at the root of the desire for independence. The central cultural argument of the sovereigntists is that only citizenship for Quebec can adequately and permanently resolve the difficult issue of the language of the majority (Quebec French), allow Quebecers to establish their nationality, preserve their cultural identity, and keep their collective memory alive."
The 1980 referendum. In the late '70's, the Parti Quebecois gained popularity in Quebec. The party advocates national sovereignty for Quebec from Canada. Their gain of popularity made them feel that sovereignty through a referendum would be possible. The referendum basically called for sovereignty-association where Quebec would be separate except for economic ties like trade agreements and common currency. The referendum was defeated 60% to 40%.
The 1995 referendum. In 1995, the idea of sovereignty was again brought to the forefront. After the failure of the Meech Lake Accord and the Charlottetown Accord, many in Quebec felt that a resolution to the Quebec question would not be answered without sovereignty. The Bloc Quebecois was formed since the last referendum and is the sovereigntist federal party. As their power grew, also did the sovereigntist movement. The new referendum was similar to that of 1980 except the economic association was left optional. The referendum was narrowly defeated 50.58% to 49.42%.
More recent events from the past three years will be covered in Part 3.