In September, Premier Pauline Marois decided to make Quebec’s independence a priority by placing herself at the head of the department for Intergovernmental Affairs and Sovereignist Governance. Are Quebecers in for another referendum? Quite possibly, and chances are a significant number of voters will be in favour of separation.
Outside of Quebec however, most Canadians cringe when the words ‘sovereignty’ and ‘Quebec’ are strung together in a sentence. Many are simply tired of hearing about it. But it stands to reason that the rest of the country would have something to gain from Quebec’s separation.
Money would be the greatest positive. Quebec is a have-not province, and has been since 1957. During the 2012-2013 fiscal year, the federal government will be paying out no less than 7.391 billion dollars to Quebec. It receives the most cash overall (although not the most per capita) of any province. If the ‘has-never-had-and-probably-never-will’ province seceded, there would certainly be a loss of tax dollars for the federal government. But the remaining nine provinces would reap the leftover financial rewards.
Future constitutional conventions, as painful as they are anyway, would be simplified. Meech and Charlottetown were difficult in part because Quebec was insisting on special rights and privileges. It would be dramatically easier for the Prime Minister to negotiate with provinces and territories that are not used to being catered to.
Parliament Hill would undergo some interesting changes as well. Quebec currently holds 75 of the 305 seats in the House of Commons. Moreover, that number is projected to increase at the next election when the House is expanded to 335 seats (Quebec will hold 78 of these seats). If Quebec were to secede 23% of these 335 seats would be liberated. Surely, the balance of power would shift. The question, then, is in which direction? British Columbia, Alberta, and Ontario would most certainly benefit, but smaller provinces in the East would also gain a bigger voice in the electoral system.
During past referendums, businesses left Montreal in droves for bigger cities outside of Quebec. Chances are that bigger companies would continue this exodus to Ontario and perhaps even further beyond if Quebec were to separate While this would invariably hurt the seceding province, the rest of Canada could only gain from an influx of money and big business.
In light of this information, one might wonder how the rest of Canada would vote if it were to decide on the separation of Quebec. Well, it might come as no surprise to some that 40% of respondents to a Leger Marketing survey stated that Canada would ‘fare just as well’ without Quebec. Meanwhile, 60% agreed that Quebec would be worse off if it chose to separate.
It is hard to tell at this point when Marois will take decisive action on her as yet out-of-focus desire to alter Quebec’s relationship with Canada. The issue is likely to become a focal point of the next election. What will the referendum look like this time? The outcome remains hard to predict.
Evidently, an entirely new demographic has reached adulthood since Quebec last put the issue of sovereignty to a vote 17 years ago. This generation appears, politically, to be even more active and bellicose than their parents ever were (judging by the protests against tuition increases last year); and perhaps more inclined to vote in favour of Quebec separating. Considering how much Canada has to gain from ‘losing’ its francophone province, it would be silly to stop them.
– Emma Meldrum
(Featured photo: quinn.anya, Creative Commons, Flickr)