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No more talk of separatism

October 15, 2011

EVER since Pierre Trudeau proclaimed the death of separatism in Quebec scant months before the Parti Québécois swept to victory in the 1976 provincial election, no one has seriously ventured to repeat the claim, no matter how badly support for a Quebec break from Canada was sagging in public esteem. Nor is anyone wishing to be taken seriously reckless enough to say so even now, when the movement’s prospects seem dimmer than at any time in the past 40 years. However, even diehard believers in the inevitability of independence must be having grave doubts that they will live to see the glorious day. A new poll shows that an overwhelming majority of Quebecers are tired of hearing about separation, never mind doing the thing. … Among the findings was that only 25 per cent of Quebecers would opt for independence if they had to choose between separation or a Canada with an amended constitution acceptable to the Quebec government — or even the constitution as it stands.

This came even though 73 per cent would like to see Quebec recognised as a nation by the Canadian constitution. Fully 77 per cent — more than two out of three — agreed that the sovereignty debate should be shelved and more pressing problems dealt with; 71 per cent agreed it has become outmoded, up from 58 per cent in a similar survey 18 months ago.

Quebecers aren’t suddenly declaring themselves federalist en masse, but then they aren’t overwhelmingly partial to any label, be it sovereignist, federalist, nationalist or autonomist; the greatest number, 37 per cent, disdained all the above. However, a telling 63 per cent, nearly two-thirds, said they are proud of being both Quebecers and Canadians, and an equal number agreed that federalism has more advantages than disadvantages.

It is notable that one of the great bugbears of Quebec’s nationalist intelligentsia, and what separatists consider a prime selling point for their option — the 1982 patriation of the constitution and the institution of the federal Charter of Rights and Freedoms over the Quebec government’s objections — doesn’t resonate any more, if ever it really did. The patriation is supported by 80 per cent, and the charter by 88 per cent, the pollster found. Seventy-five per cent even think the charter protections for Quebec’s anglo minority is a good thing. While this poll is just a poll, and the separatists are still kicking — although more desperately than at any time in memory — its findings are reassuring for both the cause of national unity and provincial governance, in that Quebecers in overwhelming measure have shown they have a firm grasp of sound political priorities. — (Oct 14)