How would Western Canada feel if Quebec separated?

BY MARIO CANSECO

The oldest residents are more likely to say “Good riddance.”

In a lengthy 1992 interview with Peter C. Newman that was featured originally in “The Secret Mulroney Tapes”, then prime minister Brian Mulroney lamented the double defeat of his constitutional reform proposals with one simple phrase: “For thirty years, I have felt that the successful resolution of the question ‘what does Quebec want,’ would solidify the federation once and for all.”

Three decades later, there has been no successful resolution to the question. Three years after Mulroney spoke directly to Newman’s recorder, Quebec went through a second referendum on sovereignty. Since then, the Parti Québecois won some provincial elections, and lost others. Still, the cause of sovereignty appeared to gain some momentum at the start of 2014.

In the second week of March, as Quebecers pondered their choices in the upcoming provincial election, Insights West asked British Columbians and Albertans a series of questions related to Quebec. There have been countless surveys on how Quebecers feel about becoming a country, but few opportunities to test how people in the rest of the country would react to one of the founding provinces abandoning the federation.

At the time these questions were asked, a fresh referendum on sovereignty seemed like a strong possibility, along with the notion of a new round of discussions on “what Quebec wants”. Quebec Premier Pauline Marois appeared ready to—borrowing another one of Mulroney’s famous phrases—“roll the dice” and figure out if there was enough appetite to turn Quebec into a country.

The views of British Columbians and Albertans on Quebec were similar. First of all, both provinces showed a particularly low incidence when it came to “second language” proficiency. Just one-in-twenty British Columbians (5%) described themselves as fluent in French, while a further 13 per cent said they can speak “some” of the language.

BC’s numbers were slightly superior to what was observed in Alberta, where only four per cent of residents said they were fluent, and eight per cent acknowledged speaking “some French.”

A second question sought to gauge how Western Canadians would react to Quebec becoming its own country separate from Canada. In British Columbia, 24 per cent of residents said Quebec separation would make them very or moderately happy. The proportion of Albertans who would practically celebrate Quebec’s secession was almost ten points higher (33%).

While it is evident that the number of British Columbians and Albertans who would be saddened by Quebec’s separation is significantly higher (62% for British Columbia, and 49% for Alberta), it was startling to see one-in-four BC residents and a third of Albertans saying they would not be distraught by Quebec’s departure.

But just who are the Western Canadians who were ready to say “good riddance” to Quebec? Men appear to be more drastic in their view of Quebec, with 28 per cent of male residents in British Columbia and 38 per cent in Alberta saying Quebec sovereignty would actually make them feel happy.

Along with the gender gap, age plays a major role in the way the West is looking at the future of Quebec. While younger and middle-aged residents seem to be more inclusive, older residents are more radical. Three-in-ten British Columbians aged 55 and over (30%)—and 38% of their counterparts in Alberta—would be delighted by Quebec separation.

It is no surprise to see this group look at discussions about Quebec’s future with apprehension. Western Canadians aged 55 and over lived through the October Crisis, the repatriation of the Constitution, the creation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and two referenda—along with Mulroney’s efforts in Meech Lake and Charlottetown. Quebec, whether by association or omission, has always been an integral part of all constitutional discussions.

Some Western Canadian residents with more experience, and longer memories, are more likely to unassumingly look the other way and imagine a Canada without Quebec, if another referendum takes place.

 

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Photograph: Abdallahh