As most of our readers are aware, there are about 9 millions North Americans who share French as a first language. Among them, 6.5 millions of them live in Quebec, a Canadian province which came very close to gaining its independence in 1995 (the NO got 50.4% and the YES got 49.6%).
Since then, the sovereigntist movement has suffered from diminishing enthusiasm, not to mention two electoral defeats for the Parti Québécois (PQ), leader of the movement. In fact, in the last Quebec general election, the PQ got 29% of the vote and 36 seats in the National Assembly (out of 125), its worst showing in 40 years.
However, the party that represents the sovereigntist movement on the federal level, the Bloc Québécois, has won landslide majorities both in terms of popular vote and seats in the latest federal elections. Will the PQ be able to pull itself up in Quebec City the way the Bloc did in Ottawa?
For now, it does not seem likely. The Quebec campaign, already halfway through, has garnered very little enthusiasm from Quebecers. And who could blame them? Before the Assembly was dissolved by Quebec PM Jean Charest (Liberal Party), a poll showed that 75% of Quebecers opposed elections. But this does not seem to have translated into a tangible anti-Liberal feeling among the population, since today's Léger Marketing poll shows Mr. Charest gaining traction among some voters:
Liberals : 44%
PQ : 33%
ADQ : 15%
However, the remaining half of the campaign might have a few surprises up its sleeve. For starters, the PQ is still ahead by a 2-point margin among Francophones, the ultimate key constituency that must be won for any party that wants to form a majority government. Indeed, 80 of Quebec's 125 seats are occupied by overwhelming Francophone majorities. That is why, even with an 11-point lead among Quebecers overall, the Liberal party might still fall short of a majority (63 seats). democraticSPACE's latest seat projection did give them a majority, but by such a slight margin that a minority government remains likely:
Liberals : 65 seats
PQ : 50 seats
ADQ : 10 seats
Looking at these numbers, some may conclude that the sovereingtist movement is on the decline. But what is interesting though is that independence remains popular among Francophones (close to 50% of them remain in favor of it), even more popular than sovereingtist parties themselves. Therefore, it seems that it is the PQ that's pulling independence downward, and not the other way around. With renewed leadership and upcoming tough fights between Quebec City and Ottawa, who knows what could happen? In 1994, independence was at 38% in the polls. A year later, the referendum got 49.6% support.
Conclusion: You can't kill a people's aspiration for independence.
As Jacques Parizeau, former Quebec PM and leader of the PQ during the 1995 referendum, once famously said : "Let us never underestimate the capability of the federal government to disappoint us."