April 7, 2014 may turn out to be a day for the Canadian history books, a day where the future of our country could take a turn in almost any direction, and yet, most of the Canadian population will have no influence on its outcome. On April 7, Quebec residents will go to the polls to vote in their provincial general elections.
As we close in on Election Day, opinion polls indicate that the Parti Québécois (PQ), currently holding power as a minority government, could win a majority. It’s a possibility that has many federalists on edge.
After all, the Parti Québécois uses separatism as a foundation of their party; if they win a majority, another Quebec independence referendum could loom on the horizon. Furthermore, the PQ proposed the polarizing Quebec Charter of Values prohibiting public sector employees from wearing conspicuous religious symbols—a majority government would let them push this bill through with few obstacles. Finally, the PQ has also expressed a desire to tighten bilingualism legislation, effectively granting more authority and scope to the province’s infamous ‘language police.’
There have been numerous calls for Quebec residents to vote against the PQ and stick with Canada but nobody will know the outcome for sure until April 7. But I have one major question to ask: Say, for one reason or another, the federalists manage to hold off a PQ majority this year. Then what?
Then we do this whole dance again in five years. Or ten, or maybe close to twenty.
The last Quebec sovereignty referendum was in October 1995. Then, the federalists got by with the slimmest of margins, with only 50.58 per cent of Quebec residents voting against separation. For the last nineteen years, the separatist movement has been slowly regaining momentum, and now it is poised to force the question once again.
And here’s the thing: a majority of Québécois want that to happen—at least, that’s what the early surveys are suggesting. While these informal polls are by no means conclusive, observers seem to agree on their implications: a PQ majority is in the cards.
All of their policies that are causing such concern among Canadians—the Charter of Values, the language legislation, and most of all separatism—are actually making them more popular in Quebec. That’s what’s making me anxious, not the election itself.
This means that the majority of Quebec residents would rather go through the potential difficulties of becoming a sovereign state rather than remain a part of Canada. More important, though, is the fact that this sentiment isn’t likely to change regardless of the result of the upcoming election. If the PQ doesn’t win a majority, then separatists will bide their time and we’ll have another panic attack when the next provincial election rolls around.
If Canada is to have any hope of keeping Quebec—not just this year, but in the future—we have to be able to change their minds. The Québécois feel that their unique identity, culture, and history aren’t being respected in the larger Canadian picture. The Canadian government has made some rather feckless attempts to address Quebec’s concerns, effectively band-aid solutions to try and keep Canada together.
If the Canadian government doesn’t find a committed, systematic way to improve the relationship, Quebec is going to separate. I don’t want it to happen, but it will. Maybe not today. Maybe not on April 7. But it’s only a matter of time.