The term designed by Parti Quebecois leaders in the 1970s to explain their version of Quebec separation.

There has been an ongoing attempt by Separatists to frame their goal in more palatable language. Already having replaced the scary term “Separatist” with the less jarring “sovereignist” (a made-up word that until then did not exist), PQ Premier Rene Levesque sought to go further to neutralise the concept by adding the word “association”, implying an ongoing association with Canada. In the 1980 referendum, the PQ tried to make the option ever more banal with a referendum question that asked voters only to give them “a mandate to negotiate” sovereignty-association with the rest of Canada.

Like most political euphemisms it fell flat. As a plainly transparent effort to remove the sharp edges from the separatist option, Quebec federalists mercilessly mocked “sovereignty association”, particularly Jean Chrétien, who led the Trudeau Government’s campaign on the NO side of the referendum. Chrétien likened “sovereignty-association” to wanting a full divorce… with continued bedroom privileges. Quebeckers voted 60% to 40% against the option.1

Ballot Question:

The Government of Quebec has made public its proposal to negotiate a new agreement with the rest of Canada, based on the equality of nations; this agreement would enable Quebec to acquire the exclusive power to make its laws, levy its taxes and establish relations abroad — in other words, sovereignty — and at the same time to maintain with Canada an economic association including a common currency; any change in political status resulting from these negotiations will only be implemented with popular approval through another referendum; on these terms, do you give the Government of Quebec the mandate to negotiate the proposed agreement between Quebec and Canada?”

In the lead-up to the 2014 Scottish Referendum, aging Separatists asked whether they had made a mistake in 1995 by not asking a direct question “do you want independence?.”

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons


  1. World reaction to Quebec referendum results. CBC Digital Archives.

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