On October 30, 1995, Quebec voters headed to the polls to answer a convoluted question about their future relationship with the rest of Canada. While the political rhetoric cast the vote as a decisive choice about Quebecois sovereignty, the actual implications of a Yes vote were – like the wording of the referendum question itself – vague, even for the main political players involved.
In The Morning After, veteran political journalists Chantal Hébert and Jean Lapierre explore how politicians in both the federalist and sovereigntist camps imagined and planned for the possibility – which came all too close to becoming a reality – of some sort of separation. What emerges is a series of stories about individual politicians’ personal histories, involvement in the referendum debates, and views about the relationship between Quebec and Canada. These range from insightful to gossipy, with the authors using the opportunity to take a few needless jabs at their subjects (for instance, Lucienne Robillard, at the time a Montreal MP in Jean Chrétien’s Liberal government, is dubbed a “scullery mouse”).
To their credit, Hébert and Lapierre avoid too much speculation about the counterfactual event of a Yes victory, eschewing guesswork in favour of interviews and research. The book’s biographical format gives readers a glimpse behind the curtain of electioneering and party lines to the messy, contentious, and embittered backstage of the referendum process. This aspect of the book will certainly be of interest to Canadian political junkies. For a broader audience, maybe uninterested in personal minutiae, The Morning After provides a stark reminder of the importance of individuals’ power in influencing the political arena. It may also, however, seem to tell a very small piece of the story.
Like Robert Wright’s The Night Canada Stood Still, another recent book on the referendum, The Morning After fails to take Quebec’s populace into account, which could be considered an oversight. After all, nearly half of them were convinced by the very politicians Hébert and Lapierre interviewed that they truly were making an historic decision. This book fails to probe how, or even if, they understood the potential repercussions of their votes.