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© Krantz News Service, March 6, 2014

As Canada's largest province, Quebec, heads for an April 7 election, is the sovereignty question back in play?

Voters in Quebec narrowly rejected separation from Canada in a referendum 19 years ago. A return of the issue would have a seismic political impact.

More than twice as large as the U.S. state of Texas, this vast and geographically diverse province stretches from the frozen tundra of the Arctic North to the lowland forests of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Nearly a quarter of the Canada's Members of Parliament represent the citizens of Quebec.

The approaching Quebec election is termed a snap election under the parliamentary system, meaning the election is called sooner than the normal fixed date.

For Quebec Premier Pauline Marois and her political party, the Parti Quebecois, the timing is right to ask voters for a majority mandate in the National Assembly (unique among the provinces, Quebec's legislative body is identified as national).

The Parti Quebecois (PQ) has been in the minority and a budget agreement reportedly was unobtainable, yet polling data shows the PQ gaining public support. 1/

For now, Marois said she does not want to talk about sovereignty.

But the Liberal Leader, Philippe Couillard, has advised voters to beware. "A vote for the PQ is a vote for a referendum and separation," he said. 2/

Non-sovereignty issues do figure in this election: the budget, the sluggish economy, jobs.

Nevertheless, the focus has zeroed in on the Quebec Charter of Values, a PQ-backed bill which would, among other things, prohibit state employees from wearing "conspicuous" religious symbols. 3/

To an analyst writing in The Montreal Gazette, this is a simple case of "identity politics."

Philip Authier writes: "For the Liberals, it's the economy, health and jobs. For the Coalition Avenir Quebec [a much smaller party of economic conservatives and social liberals], it's better government, a kind of anti-status quo campaign.

"But for the Parti Quebecois, identity politics rule." 4/

And charter opponents struggle to mount an effective opposition in this election campaign. The Charter of Values "has sent Quebec's Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and other religious groups to the Liberal party, which opposes the charter. But that won't have a big effect on their vote count, as they tend to be Liberal voters already," writes Allan Woods, Quebec correspondent for The Toronto Star. 5/

So how close is Quebec to separating from Canada? To one observer, the process is already underway and the details are academic: Professor Daniel Weinstock of McGill University (Faculty of Law) summarized the process as the "gradual de-Canadianization of Quebec." 6/


1/ See Le Journal de Montreal, "Les Quebecois appeles aux urnes: les hostilities sont lancees," by Genevieve Lajoie, March 5, 2014, http://www.journaldemontreal.com/2014/03/05/la-pm-declenche-les-elections, retrieved 3/5/2014

2/ "Couillard calls on young Quebecers to work with the Liberals," by Kevin Dougherty, Gazette Quebec Bureau Chief, Montreal Gazette,


3/ See Journal des debats (Hansard) of the Committee on Institutions, Assemblee Nationale Quebec, http://www.assnat.qc.ca/en/travaux-parlementaires/commissions/ci-40-1/journal-debats/CI-140220.html Retrieved 3/5/2014

4/ See Authier, Montreal Gazette, "Identity politics at core of campaign, PQ has managed to grow voter share with 'us and them' political them, analyst says," Montreal Gazette, March 5, 2014, http://www.montrealgazette.com/news/Identity+politics+core+campaign/9581689/story.html Retrieved 3/5/2014

5/ See Woods, "Marois in control on eve of Quebec election call," March 5, 2014, http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2014/03/05/marois_in_control_on_eve_of_quebec_election_call.html Retrieved 3/5/2014

6/ "'Gradual de-Canadianization' means Quebec has pretty much already separated," Jordan Chittley, Levin Newman Live, March 5, 2014,

http://knlive.ctvnews.ca/gradual-de-canadianization-means-quebec-has-pretty-much-already-separated-1.1716318 Retrieved 3/5/2014

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