In 1980, Canada’s political structure was the same as it had been in 1905: There was a federal government in Ottawa and a provincial government in each province. However, some Quebeckers believed that Canada was not allowing the French to flourish, develop their culture and preserve their language. For their part, many Canadians feared the changes suggested by Quebec because Canada would be greatly changed. Political parties and their leaders proposed different options to change the Canadian political structure.

Renewed federalism

In 1966, Daniel Johnson, head of the Union National Party, and later Robert Bourassa, leader of the Liberal Party of Quebec, wanted Quebec to remain within Canada. However, they were asking the federal government to allow a  greater space for Quebec, to give Quebec the means to realize its own projects and to ensure that no significant changes would be made without Quebec’s approval.  In other words, they wanted to renew the Canadian federation, while allowing Quebec to expand its role within that federation.

Centralized federalism

Pierre-Elliot Trudeau, head of the Liberal Party, wanted to create a more-centralized Canada. According to Trudeau, Quebec was a province just like any other province and should not have more powers. He believed that the federal government had to play the most important role in Canada, and he attempted to centralize powers as much as possible in Ottawa. In order to satisfy Quebec, in 1969, he made French one of Canada’s two official languages.


René Lévesque, leader of the Parti Québécois believed that Quebec should be completely separate from Canada. According to René Lévesque, it was not possible to renew the Canadian federation to meet the demands of Quebec. He thought that Quebec should be an independent country to be completely free of Canada’s decisions. In 1980, the Parti Québécois held a referendum on Quebec sovereignty. Nearly 60% of Quebeckers voted NO to the proposal to make Quebec a country.

View a timeline (in French) for this period at:

Author:  Alexandre Lanoix

See also – Traces of the past: