Twenty years after the Quebec sovereignty referendum nearly tore Canada apart, the country is “stronger than ever,” according to Brian Tobin, the chief organizer of a massive federalist rally that gave the No side an 11th-hour boost.

Tobin, who was the minister of fisheries and oceans in Jean Chretien’s Liberal government, recalled the Oct. 30, 1995 referendum as “an amazing day” when Canadian unity prevailed.

“It doesn’t feel like it was 20 years ago, it feels like it just was yesterday,” Tobin told CTV News Chanel Friday.

Just three days before the referendum, Tobin helped organize the controversial Unity Rally in Montreal that drew some 150,000 people who supported the No side.

Critics said the rally in the downtown Montreal square was an attempt to thwart democracy and influence the vote in Quebec. But Tobin said Friday, that there was no “big federal government plan” behind it.

Yes, the federal government raised money for the Unity Rally and helped organize transportation to Montreal, Tobin said. But he says the 150,000 people still “spontaneously” showed up to demonstrate their love for a country that includes Quebec.

“This was really a kind of cry of help out to Canadians,” he said of the last-minute plans to organize the rally.

“The day of that referendum, standing in a hotel room 24 floors up looking down on that square, wondering, ‘Will people come?’ were among the most traumatic moments of my life,” Tobin said. “Until I began to see the square fill up.

“It was an incredible moment of Canadian pride.”

Tobin said people often forget how close Quebec came to secession. The ‘No’ vote prevailed by a narrow majority of about 50.5 per cent.

Although polls suggest that support for sovereignty is at about 40 per cent in Quebec today, Tobin said he is “delighted” to know that Canada is “stronger than ever before.”

He said the majority of younger Quebecers – a new generation that includes prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau – are not interested in another sovereignty referendum.

“They’re not inward looking, they’re outward looking.”

Tobin, who also served as premier of Newfoundland from 1996 to 2000, is now the vice chair of BMO Capital Markets.