Michel Tremblay, a French-speaking Montreal
native, has for almost 30 years supported parties that want Quebec to
leave Canada. In the next national election, he plans instead to back
Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
"The flame has gone out,'' said Tremblay, 45, a mortgage broker.
"It's become an obsolete ideology. What would we get out of it, other
than financial problems?''
Quebec separatists, after coming within a percentage point of winning a
vote on secession in 1995, are losing favor as demographics, economics
and Harper's overtures erode their base. Support for what is called
"sovereignty'' in the French-speaking province was 36 percent last
month, compared with almost 50 percent 13 years ago.
"We don't talk about this any more,'' Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, himself born in Quebec, said in
an April 23 interview in New York. "Some of the people on Wall Street have mentioned this to me. The whole
Quebec secession issue is gone.''
For Canada, the weakening of separatist sentiment means Harper's Conservatives may win enough of Quebec's
75 districts to form a majority government in elections expected as soon as this year. Harper's party holds 127
of the 308 seats in Canada's parliament and needs opposition help to pass laws.
After Quebec voters rejected a 1980 sovereignty referendum by 3-to-2, they almost approved another 15
years later, winning 49.4 percent of the vote. The movement declined over the next decade, flaring up in 2005
when it was disclosed that ad agencies hired to promote Canada in Quebec got bogus federal contracts in
exchange for kickbacks.
Harper, who made his political career in the western province of Alberta before coming to power in 2006,
softened sovereignty sentiment by increasing federal transfer payments to the province by 29 percent, to
C$20 billion ($19.9 billion) for fiscal 2009. He also promised to stay out of areas such as education and
declared Quebec a "nation,'' key goals of provincial leaders
As a result, the separatist Parti Quebecois won just 34 of the provincial legislature's 125 seats in elections last
year, finishing third for the first time since 1970.
The PQ may have sown the seeds of its undoing while in charge by pressuring the federal government into
giving the province more autonomy, making Quebec an easier place for French speakers to thrive. Fifty-four
percent of Quebec's 7.44 million people speak only French.
"The structural factors that fed the movement and the resentment in the '60s and '70s are gone,'' said Jean-Herman Guay, a political science professor at Sherbrooke University. He cited obstacles the province has
overcome: income inequality between French and English speakers, low French representation on corporate
boards and English-only service in stores.
In 1970, unilingual English-speaking men in Quebec earned 59 percent more than their French-speaking
counterparts and 11 percent more than bilingual Francophones, according to a C.D. Howe Institute study
published last year. Thirty years later, the unilingual gap had shrunk to 15 percent; bilingual French speakers
earned more than any other group.
Demographics also have played a role. Immigrants from Haiti, China, Lebanon and other nations now make
up 12 percent of Quebec's population. About twice as many newcomers arrived from 2001 to 2006 as in the
previous five-year period, Canadian census figures show.
Moreover, even as Quebec enjoys a jobless rate of 7.3 percent, near a 33-year low, the slowing U.S. economy
has caused closures and layoffs in the province's factories and lumber mills. Voters now see separatism as an
unnecessary layer of uncertainty.
"There are problems on the economic front that are bigger issues for people than holding another
referendum,'' said Claude Gauthier, vice president of Crop Inc., the research firm that found 36 percent of
Quebeckers want to secede. That poll of 1,000 voters was taken from April 17-22 and has a margin of error of
3 percentage points.
Quebec's economy will grow 1.2 percent this year, "barely'' enough to escape a recession and half the 2.4
percent in 2007, Yves St-Maurice, deputy chief economist at Mouvement Desjardins, said in a March
Still, political stability may be reassuring investors.
The spread between borrowing costs in Quebec and neighboring Ontario is less than a quarter of what it
was in 1995. Quebec's benchmark 30-year bond yielded 14 basis points more than a similar Ontario security on
May 6. The difference was 71 points on Oct. 30, 1995, the day of the last referendum.
Quebec's commercial exchanges with the U.S. totaled C$78.8 billion last year, making the province America's
eighth-biggest trading partner. The province is the world's fourth-largest hydro-electricity producer.
"Capital flees insecurity, period,'' said Thomas Mulcair, a former Quebec provincial minister who's now a
federal New Democratic Party lawmaker. "Right now, things are looking stable.''
Last month, the Parti Quebecois even dropped a promise to force a third referendum as soon as it returns to
"We have some catching up to do when it comes to educating people on the necessity of sovereignty,'' said
Francois Gendron, the PQ legislator in charge of the party's day-to-day operations in the Quebec City
Tremblay, the ex-separatist, is among the 27 percent of Quebeckers who say they'll support Harper in the next
"Back when my father worked in a plant, if you wanted to talk to the foreman, you had to do it in English,''
Tremblay said. "We had damn good reasons to separate. Today, where are the reasons? I don't see them
To contact the reporter on this story:
Alexandre Deslongchamps in Ottawa at
NDLR de Vigile - on aimerait bien savoir de quel "Michel Tremblay" il s'agit dans ce texte
: l'homme de théâtre (Tremblay, the ex-separatist,)? ou "Tremblay, 45, a mortgage broker"...