The recognition of Quebec as a “distinct society” within the Canadian Confederation lies at the heart of the current debate over constitutional reform. Among the proponents of the Meech Lake accord, it is an article of faith that Quebec is distinctive within Canada by reason of its French-speaking majority and its culture. That concept has not been universally applauded outside of French Canada, particularly when it is coupled, as envisaged under the 1987 Meech Lake proposals, with the idea that Quebec’s special status justifies constitutional authority to “preserve and promote” the province’s unique identity. But the results of the 1989 Maclean ’s/Decima poll indicate that Quebec is indeed distinct. The poll suggests that, on a number of critical issues, Quebecers do in fact hold different opinions and maintain attitudes that differ from the prevailing views among other Canadians.
It is on the fundamental national issues, those touching the very character of the country, that Quebec opinion diverges most sharply. Only in Quebec, for example, is there an overwhelming consensus that having a bilingual nation is beneficial to Canada. As well, Quebecers, unlike most other Canadians, tended to define their identity in strictly provincial terms. Other poll responses indicate that most Quebecers feel the province is now headed towards separation. And a significant minority of Quebecers—one in three—say that they welcome that prospect.
As far as Meech Lake is concerned, Quebec is the only region in the country where most of those polled (54 per cent) say that they still believe the accord will eventually be ratified and become part of the Constitution. If it is not, Quebecers are also alone in mustering a solid majority of respondents (60 per cent) arguing that the demise of the Meech Lake agreement will accelerate the slide towards separation. And should the Meech Lake accord founder, the poll’s findings suggest that only among residents of the province is there a majority conviction that Quebec’s independence will have few, if any, negative economic ramifications.
Not surprisingly, language is the issue that separates Quebec attitudes most clearly from those prevailing in the rest of the country. Eighty-two per cent of those polled in the province said that having two official languages makes Canada a more interesting and even a better country. Only 17 per cent of Quebec respondents, and the same proportion of French-speaking Canadians generally, viewed the dual language status of the country as a source of constant conflict, one that Canada would be better off without. The findings outside of Quebec present a different picture. There, poll respondents split almost evenly between those who agreed that two languages make Canada “a more interesting and even better country” and others who said that “having two official languages is a source of constant conflict, and we would be better off with just one official language.” The division is
widest between Quebec and respondents in the four western provinces, where a majority of 56 per cent replied that Canada would be better off with just one official language. Majorities in both Ontario (53 per cent) and the Atlantic provinces (57 per cent) said that two languages are better.
The gap between Quebec and most of the rest of Canada is almost as sharp when it comes to personal identity—the manner in which individual respondents define themselves as either Canadians or provincials. A majority of respondents in Quebec (55 per cent) said that they think of themselves first as Quebecers, while 44 per cent said that they considered themselves Canadians first. Outside of that province, 81 per cent of the poll respondents said that they tended to think of themselves as Canadians first rather than residents of their home province. In that regard, at least, Quebec is not completely alone. In Newfoundland, which in 1949 became Canada’s 10th and newest province, 53 per cent of the respondents said that they tended to think of themselves first as Newfoundlanders.
On the issue of Quebec separatism, the opinions of Quebecers differ less markedly, although significantly, from those in the rest of the country. While half of the Quebec poll respondents said that the prospect of their province separating from Canada had become more likely during the past five years, a smaller proportion in the rest of the country—39 per cent—shared that opinion. And while one in three of the Quebecers said that, if they had their way, they would like to see Quebec separate, one in five of the poll respondents outside Quebec said the same. The 33 per cent of Quebec residents who favored the idea of an independent Quebec compares with the slightly over 40 per cent who actually voted for the sovereignty resolution in the 1980 Quebec referendum.
But even though a 65-per-cent majority of Quebecers in the Maclean ’s/Decima poll said that they would not like to see Quebec separate, significant majorities also expressed the opinion that the province could make it on its own. Sixty-two per cent of those polled inside the province said they believed that an independent Quebec could survive as an independent nation. In answer to another question, 57 per cent of the Quebecers polled predicted that 10 years after a separation from Canada, an independent Quebec’s standard of living would at least get no worse (36 per cent) or else it would improve (21 per cent).
Once again, the poll’s results point to a divergence of opinion between Quebec and the rest of the country. In contrast to the attitude inside Quebec, 62 per cent of those polled outside that province gave an independent Quebec a poor chance of survival. And 70 per cent of those respondents said that if Quebecers did separate, living standards within Quebec over the next decade would decline.
Similar differences divide Quebec and other parts of Canada concerning the agreement that was originally designed to make the province a fully participating member of the country’s
BILINGUALISMMULTICULTURALISM Does having two official languages make Canada a better place, or would it be better off with only one official language? And does being multicultural make Canada better, or would it be better off with one culture? Bilingual One language MultiOne Better Better culture culture CANADA 58 41 68 30 B.C. 40 60 78 21 PRAIRES 45 54 70 26 ONTARIO 53 46 68 29 QUEBEC 82 17 64 35 ATLANTIC 57 41 66 33
Constitution. Only in Quebec did the Maclean ’s/Decima poll record a majority—54 per cent—who said that they believed the Meech Lake accord still stood a chance of becoming law. What is more, while 60 per cent of those polled in Quebec voiced the opinion that a failure to ratify the agreement would likely lead to Quebec’s separation, the view in the rest of Canada was almost exactly the opposite. Fewer than half the respondents outside Quebec—43 per cent—said that the demise of Meech Lake would likely drive the province out of Confederation.
Constitutional issues aside, Quebec’s attitudes also appear to be different in a number of other areas. The poll suggested, for instance, that significantly fewer Quebecers would seek business stardom. Slightly more Quebecers than the national average viewed politics as an attractive profession.
Clearly, as the results of the Maclean’s/ Decima poll indicate, there does appear to be something distinct about Quebec. It is a difference that most other Canadians seem to instinctively recognize. When respondents were asked which region of the country they felt they held the least in common with, the biggest proportion in every province outside Quebec—57 per cent in the four western provinces—named that province. Quebec respondents reciprocated the sentiment, 43 per cent of them saying that they felt most estranged from the West and 21 per cent citing Ontario. For those people both inside and outside Quebec who are still concerned about the future of the Canadian Confederation, the poll results together provide a discouraging expression of attitudes.
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