If anyone in Canada was more delighted than Jean Chrétien by the outcome of the Oct 25 federal election, it was probably Jacques Parizeau, head of the Parti Québécois. “TEe game is up for federalism,” he gloated, after pondering the astonishing success of the Bloc Québécois in his native province and the equally impressive rise of the Reform party in the West. Pausing for dramatic effect, Parizeau added triumphantly: “Canada is cracking apart all over.”
Is he right, or was the PQ leader simply engaging in wishful thinking? In the case of Quebec, the verdict may come in 1995—the year in which Parizeau, if he fulfils his ambition to become premier in the upcoming provincial election, has promised a referendum on sovereignty. For now, what seems clear is that the stresses and strains that have always divided Canadians are becoming more pronounced. Whether or not they agree with Parizeau that the country is “cracking apart” like some kind of constitutional Humpty Dumpty, many Canadians do worry that the country they know and love is teetering on the brink.
Of course, Canada has always encompassed vastly different regional aspirations. How could things be otherwise in a nation that boasts two official languages (and dozens of unofficial ones), 10 million square kilometres of land and water and a quarter of the world’s time zones? Scattered from east to west across 5,514 km of territory—from the rugged wilderness of Newfoundland to the lush rain forests of Vancouver Island— Canada’s 28 million inhabitants are held together not by any universal sense of history or destiny, but by 127 years worth of painstaking political accommodation. No wonder novelist
Methodology see page 32
Robertson Davies once said of Canada: “It’s not a country you love. It’s a country you worry about.”
These days, nationalists and sympathetic foreigners are doing a great deal more worrying about the country’s future. They are troubled not only by the strength of regionalism—with the collapse of the Progressive Conservatives, the Liberals are now the only federal party with elected members in more than four of the country’s 10 provinces—but also by the increasingly north-south alignment of the Canadian economy. They worry, too, about the withering away of national symbols—everything from Via Rail and the domestic airline industry to the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. and the Canadian Football League. The East Coast fishery is now practically a memory, support for bilingualism is declining and a growing number of Canadian dollars wind up in the cash registers of cavernous U.S.-owned warehouse stores, bypassing locally owned shops and traditional Canadian retail chains.
In the face of those pressures, and an economy that stubbornly refuses to get up off its knees after four years of what business leaders euphemistically term “restructuring,” it is hardly surprising that so many Canadians express pessimism about their country. But how exactly do the concerns of Newfoundlanders differ from those of Ontarians or British Columbians? Are Quebecers more disenchanted than Albertans? And are the differences among Canadians from various regions mainly a matter of politics and posturing, or do they extend to moral and ethical beliefs, sexual behavior and lifestyles?
Searching for answers to some of those questions, Maclean’s and the CTV network commissioned a wideranging poll by Toronto’s Decima Research of 1,610 adults from coast to coast—the 10th annual Maclean’s year-end poll. As in each of the nine previous polls, Decima asked Canadians about the issues that matter most to them, and about how they feel about their own—and their country’s—prospects. The survey also dealt with a wide variety of ethical and moral issues, from telling a racial joke to having an extramarital affair. It asked what people do in their spare time, including how often they read a book, rent violent videos or commune with nature. Finally, the poll explored what happens when the lights go out, asking how often they
had sex, how much time they devoted to foreplay and lovemaking and how they felt about a range of sexual issues. When it was all done, Decima vice-president Christopher Kelly analysed the responses according to the respondents’ province of residence, as well as age, sex, income, level of education and occupation.
The results, by turns, were fascinating, curious, enlightening and entertaining. Nationally, respondents identified unemployment as the most important issue facing the country—the eighth time they have done so since the magazine began conducting year-end polls in 1984 (page 24). But the national results masked significant differences among regions: in general, concern about unemployment was far less pronounced in the West than in Central Canada and the Atlantic provinces (where the problem is most acute). In British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan, in fact, almost as many respondents said the top issue was government debt and deficits. Obviously, Chretien’s government will have to walk a tightrope if it hopes to reach out to needy Canadians in hard-hit regions without alienating debtweary voters in others.
Beyond that, the poll found that respondents in Newfoundland, Quebec and Prince Edward Island were the least inclined to think of themselves as Canadians. British Columbia was the most popular place to live, while Newfoundlanders were the most likely to agree that governments hold the solution to major problems. Residents of Saskatchewan seemed to be the gloomiest Canadians: 64 per cent of respondents there said the province is now a worse place to live than a decade ago. (Perhaps it is sheer coincidence that Saskatchewanians also reported having sex less often than people in every other province.) The following pages contain a detailed look at the findings, as well as a look back at how Canada has changed since the first Maclean’s poll. As usual, this year’s package is a blend of the serious and not-so-serious. But in a country that is still struggling to define itself, it makes sense first to examine and understand our differences. □
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