Peter Koven - Canada's business leaders believe the separatist Parti Quebecois is "fundamentally weak" and in "ultimate decline," according to a poll conducted for the Financial Post. However, many continue to believe the separatist threat is here to stay.
The survey, conducted by COMPAS Inc., found that 64% of Canadian chief executives believe the disastrous showing by the PQ in the March election indicates the party has fundamental weaknesses and won't rebound. Just 29% view the result as a temporary setback. They also gave a probability of just 14% to Quebec separating in the next 10 years.
"Quebec will never separate," wrote one respondent. "The costs would be too great. The omnipresent threat of separatism continues to bring grossly disproportionate federal dollars to la belle province."
The business leaders gave mixed reactions when it came to dealing with separatism. They believe the best solution is strong politicians in Quebec and the rest of the country who believe in Canada and know how to communicate with Quebecers. However, many respondents also said there is "no solution" to the separatist threat because nationalists will always use it as a bargaining tool to extract money from the rest of Canada.
"People do think paradoxically," said COMPAS president Conrad Winn, who co-wrote the survey. "On the one hand, they think if there is going to be a solution, it's got to come from federalist politicians. On the other hand, they're not so sure there will be a solution because they're not sure they'll see any federalist politicians on the horizon who have that charismatic ability. You basically need a charismatic [Lucien] Bouchard, and they don't see a federalist Bouchard around."
Mr. Winn believes the survey results suggest the CEOs see separatism as a nuisance that is distracting Canadians from the real challenges facing the country.
"I think there was a feeling of, 'When can we get over this, because there are these huge global economic challenges and opportunities that threaten all of us in Canada and create opportunity for all of us,' " he said.
The majority of respondents also agreed that constitutional reform is not the best way to deal with the separatist threat. Only 22% said it is the best solution.
"Quebec separatists will always be with us. Diehard separatists form about [one-quarter] to [one-third] of the population of Quebec and their passion for their cause is emotionally tied to how they define themselves and who they are," wrote one business leader. "However, unless the rest of the country does something really stupid, they are also very unlikely now to convince the majority of Quebecers to abandon the benefits of being Canadian."
The poll was sponsored by BDO Dunwoody LLP and was conducted over the Internet last week. The 141 respondents come mostly from small and mediumsized businesses. The results are considered accurate to within 8.3 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.