Canada: Provincial victory set to resurrect Quebec independence movement
Less than two decades ago, in perhaps the most traumatic moment in modern Canadian history, the mainly French-speaking province of Quebec came within a hair’s breadth of voting for independence.
Separatist sentiment is now back on the agenda as an opposition party dedicated to carving Canada into two heads for victory in the next week’s provincial election.
Parti Québécois (PQ), running at 33 per cent in the latest poll, complains that Quebec does not make enough from its mineral reserves and wants to force mining firms to pay higher royalties. It also plans to make it harder for foreign firms to take over Quebec companies.
It will also strengthen already tough language laws to ensure French dominates, and promises a third referendum on splitting from Canada when the time is right.
“Time is playing against Canada in the sense that slowly but surely the attachment Quebecers have for Canada is withering,” said PQ legislator Stephane Bergeron, 47, tipped as a likely minister in a future PQ government. “I think reality is going to catch up with Canada,” he said this week as he campaigned in his constituency of Vercheres, a separatist stronghold along the St Lawrence River east of Montreal.
Quebec – where 80 per cent of the 7.8 million population are native French-speakers – has always sat rather uneasily inside a nation of 34.5 million.
To quit Canada, separatists would have to win a new referendum. The pro-independence side lost heavily in 1980, but the 1995 referendum was much tighter, and separatists won 49.4 per cent of the vote.
PQ leader Pauline Marois says she would hold a referendum “tomorrow” if she felt sure of victory, but it looks unlikely now, given polls that put support for independence at only 40 per cent.
For the time being she promises to focus on the economy, health and education, assuming she wrests power from the ruling Liberals, as pollsters expect.
The PQ, which first took office in 1976, says Quebec is mature enough to break away. The party is ahead in the polls, thanks to disillusionment with Liberals after nine years in power.
A third party is the newly created Coalition for the Future of Quebec (CAQ), headed by a former PQ minister, which wants to put off talk of referendums for a decade and concentrate on the economy.
Pollster Christian Bourque said voters were not overly enthused by PQ and Ms Marois, who even supporters complain lacks charisma.
“The electorate wants to get rid of the Liberals after nine years but they don’t want the natural alternative option, which is the PQ,” said Mr Bourque. “So, you’ve got two-thirds of people who want to beat the Liberals and two-thirds of Quebecers who don’t want the PQ.”
Even a minority PQ win would set the stage for clashes with the federal government of premier Stephen Harper.
The PQ wants to set up a separate Quebec citizenship and take full control of unemployment benefits, immigration and business development funds.
Quebecers often complain they have little in common with the rest of Canada, particularly now that the Conservatives are in power.
Mr Harper’s tough-on-crime agenda and love of the British monarchy win him few friends in Quebex.
Quebec’s Liberal leader Jean Charest told Ms Marois in a TV debate: “The last thing we need is referendum threats.
“You’re gambling at the casino with Quebec’s future.”
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east