From CFB Bagotville. Ottawa feared planes would be used as pawns, says documentary on '95
September 8, 2005
The department of National Defence ordered CF-18 fighter jets to be flown from Bagotville to two U.S. bases on the eve of the 1995 Quebec referendum for fear the planes would be used as pawns by sovereignist forces after a Yes vote, says a new documentary on the historic plebiscite to air tonight.
The documentary also says that federal officials prepared emergency plans in the event of a Yes vote and made provisions to increase security at military bases across Quebec and to secure strategic federal buildings.
The broadcast comes as the 10th anniversary of the vote - which saw Quebecers come within a few thousand votes of electing to separate from Canada - nears. The information is part of a new four-hour documentary entitled Breaking Point in English and Point de rupture in French. The first part of the documentary aired on CBC and Radio-Canada last night, while the second half airs tonight.
The film is based on documents obtained through access to information, interviews with sources and many key figures, including former PM Jean Chretien and ex-premier Jacques Parizeau.
The documentary paints a picture of a federal government largely unprepared for the possibility that Quebecers might vote Yes to sovereignty.
One exception was former defence minister David Collenette.
"There was a degree of arrogance, a sense that we were going to win anyway, so why make waves," Collenette told his interviewers. "We cannot take it for granted that things will unfold the way we want. You have to imagine the worst and prepare from that point."
Department of National Defence officials were not available for comment. Collenette did not return phone calls from The Gazette.
In the documentary, Collenette says he was deeply concerned about the consequences of the looming referendum vote.
"Frankly, I slept badly at that time. I was minister of national defence, and I had all sorts of scenarios in my own mind."
While National Defence has generally denied it made any plans in the event of a vote for sovereignty, the documentary says Collenette discussed the question with the head of Canada's armed forces at the time, General John de Chastelain.
"He had already discussed the consequences of a federalist defeat with the chief of the defence staff," the documentary says, based on interviews with confidential sources. "The military had drawn up plans."
De Chastelain also did not return a call from The Gazette.
One preparation for a Yes vote was moving many of the CF-18 fighter jets based at CFB Bagotville in the sovereignist heartland of Saguenay-Lac St. Jean. Flight logs obtained for the documentary show the planes left Canada on Oct. 27 and flew to the U.S. Naval Air Station Oceania in Virginia and the Beaufort air station in South Carolina. The referendum was Oct. 30.
The future of the fighter jets entered the unity debate when Lucien Bouchard, then leader of the Bloc Quebecois, told an audience during the referendum campaign that a sovereign Quebec would keep the CF-18s based in the province.
"During that weekend, the CF-18 fighters left their base at Bagotville and flew to American bases in Virginia and South Carolina. It was feared they would become pawns in negotiations following a sovereignist victory," the documentary says.
"The plans provided for increased security in every military installation in Quebec and in federal buildings that were judged to be strategic such as the Maison Radio-Canada in Montreal."
The military brass weren't the only ones quietly planning for the possibility of a Yes vote. The documentary says top federal civil servants discreetly prepared emergency plans on subjects such as the territorial integrity of a sovereign Quebec and Quebec's share of the national debt.
There were even discussions about Chretien's future in the event of a Yes vote.
"If there had been a referendum that clearly said Yes and if there was a person to negotiate the division of Canada, the population of Canada cannot accept that on one side you have the representative of the province of Quebec and on the other side you have a Quebecer as representative of the Canadian government," former Chretien cabinet minister John Manley says.
At one point, Manley even met with fellow cabinet ministers Allan Rock and Anne McLellan to discuss measures they would have to take if the Yes side won.
Breaking Point also reveals that Parizeau planned to rely on Ottawa to maintain peace on Quebec's aboriginal reserves after a Yes vote.
"There are 6,000 or 7,000 Mohawks," Parizeau told his interviewers. "We know the capacity they can have to block bridges and cause problems.
"There is an easy solution for a sovereign Quebec. It is to say, 'OK, just until the question is settled otherwise, (if) you insist on working with the federal government even if you don't consider yourselves Canadian like the Mohawk. Perfect. Continue.' The federal government keeps its fiduciary responsibility and we expect the federal government to maintain order in the reserves. It's simple."
The documentary also outlines Parizeau's plan to consolidate support in the wake of the Yes vote, including publishing the names of 180 prominent Quebecers in every newspaper in the province calling on the public to accept the referendum results.
Among the names that appear on the list are former Quebec Liberal cabinet ministers Claude Castonguay and Gerald Tremblay, now mayor of Montreal.
© The Gazette (Montreal) 2005