Quebec independence: Leader of Parti Quebecois, Paul St Pierre Plamondon, vows to stand by his principles to achieve full independence for the province

Quebec independence party, Parti Quebecois, has seen a rise in membership over the past two years
Paul St Pierre Plamondon says his party, Parti Quebecois, has seen a rise in support for independence.Paul St Pierre Plamondon says his party, Parti Quebecois, has seen a rise in support for independence.
Paul St Pierre Plamondon says his party, Parti Quebecois, has seen a rise in support for independence.

Paul St Pierre Plamondon has arrived directly from giving a speech at the Université de Montréal, where he was forced to turn away 150 people who could not fit into the room at the oversubscribed event.

“I've never seen this in my years of following politics, so it's exciting,” says the leader of the Quebec independence party, Parti Quebecois (PQ). “[Independence] triggers emotions in people. People are listening to us.”

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Since Mr Plamondon took over at the head of the party in 2020, he has seen membership grow exponentially in a province which last voted on the issue of independence nearly 30 years ago.

Following the result of the 1995 referendum which saw the No vote win by a hair’s breadth of just one per cent, support for Quebec independence slumped. Until 2018, PQ had enjoyed 45 years in a significant position in the assembly of Quebec as either the governing party, or the official opposition. Yet by the time of the last elections, in 2022, it had just three members elected to the assembly and briefly lost its official party status.

Now, under Mr Plamondon’s leadership, it is enjoying a resurgence in support. A recent poll found that a majority say they would vote for PQ, if an election was held now. However, conversely, the proportion of people who actively support the idea of an independent Quebec has not changed over the past ten years, staying at around 35 per cent, suggesting that some of PQ’s supporters do not want all-out independence.

Despite this, Mr Plamondon is confident that he can return the province’s attention to achieving full independence for Quebec, which is seven times the geographical size of the UK, with a not-dissimilar population size to Scotland, of 8 million.

"Nobody has the ability of understanding exactly how and why people change their opinion toward the party, or towards the Yes option,” he says. “But I'm convinced it's of vital importance for Quebec from a linguistic, financial and environmental standpoint that we do achieve that.”

The Quebec government is currently headed by a former PQ politician, Francois Legault, who u-turned from the issue of independence – known in Quebec as “sovereignty” – to form his own party, Coalition Avenir de Quebec (CAQ), which runs on a platform of devolution.

But Mr Plamondon is adamant that he will not follow in his footsteps.

"The easy path for me, if I want to become prime minister of Quebec, is to say what other people have said in the past,” he says. “Simply say, ‘Independence would be a good thing, but given there is no sufficient support in the short term, I'm going to go forward with a campaign on other issues without mentioning any specific plan on the topic of independence’. People see that I could do that.

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"But what's the point of being in politics if you end up in power with your hands tied, then no hope of actually improving the situation? And that's the terrible story of Francois Legault. He wanted the power. He got it by saying something that is not true. And once he got into power, he didn't have the leverage to actually do something.

"I'd rather have a decent shot at having a positive impact on my society with the necessary power and budget to do it, than to do something that is a waste of time.”

A vibrant, charismatic character, with a tendency to litter his speeches about his party with the pronoun “I”, it is clear that Mr Plamondon himself is a key component of PQ’s increased support. I point out the parallels to Scotland, where the historic popularity of leaders such as Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon has had a major impact on support for the SNP.

However, he is insistent that he and his “three musketeers” as he says they are known in Quebec – his three other MNAs with seats in the Quebec parliament – are equally the face of PQ politics.

"We deliver the same level of quality from an intellectual standpoint, so we're kind of interchangeable,” he says. “And that level of quality is now a big part of our brand.”

The next Quebec elections are in 2026, by which time he hopes to have grown his party’s staff – and pool of potential candidates.

Quebec’s independence campaign is unique in that it stems chiefly from a desire to preserve the French culture of the province.

While the SNP has played to a certain extent on Scotland’s Gaelic heritage – its 2021 election manifesto presented new commitments to strengthen the Gaelic language, including the creation of a designated ‘Gàidhealtachd’ or Gaelic-speaking area – Quebec’s Francophone status is historically dominant across the province.

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Statistics show that 71.2 percent of Quebecers are first language Francophones, with the vast majority of Anglophones concentrated in the city of Montreal. Meanwhile, a total of 95 per cent of Quebecers speak French.

However, increased immigration in recent years, particularly to Montreal, threatens to dilute the French speaking population. Initiatives by the CAQ government to ensure French is the first language used in business, education and every day life, are welcomed by Mr Plamondon, but he does not believe they go far enough.

"What are the odds of giving the French language a future in Montreal at this point?” he says. “Very little, if we don't do anything. And, of course, some people will just [accept] that, on the other hand, if you present to them a solid option that gives them a future in their mother tongue – some projects or political opposition that is feasible - they might come back [to the idea of independence].”



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