Two-thirds of Quebecers identify as 'Canadian nationalists' — poll

Post-Olympics polls suggest federalist revival in la belle province

By Chantal Hébert
Toronto Star

Quebec medallists Alexandre Bilodeau and Joannie Rochette. (Photos: Rick Madonik/Toronto Star.)
Quebec medallists Alexandre Bilodeau and Joannie Rochette. (Photos: Rick Madonik/Toronto Star.)

MONTREAL — For decades, discretion has been the better part of valour for many Quebec federalists.

Driven into a virtual political closet by a dominant sovereignist narrative compounded by successive constitutional failures and, more recently, the sponsorship scandal, a sizeable group simply opted to keep its cards close to its chest until it was in the privacy of the voting booth.

Over time, some Quebec pollsters came to add a federalist vote bonus to their pre-election forecasts to make up for a recurring difference between federalist voting intentions and the actual ballot box results. They put a bigger proportion of the so-called discreet voters in the federalist column.

But now two post-Olympics polls hint at a federalist coming-out.

The first suggests it is becoming more politically correct for Quebecers to openly embrace their Canadian identity. According to the other, a surge of Quebec pride no longer fuels the desire for arrangements separate from Canada in the way that it used to.

In the first poll, done by Ipsos Reid for the Historica-Dominion Institute, 63 per cent of Quebecers described themselves as "Canadian nationalists." That's up 15 points from an identical poll a year ago and there is no doubt the Vancouver Games provided some of the momentum for the bounce.

The other poll, done by Léger Marketing for the Association of Canadian Studies, pegs at about one third (29 per cent) the proportion of Quebecers who support the concept of a team separate from that of Canada to represent them in future Olympics.

The halo of the Vancouver Games will inevitably fade over time but this week's polling numbers do not exist in isolation. They reflect the standing of the two camps in the Quebec debate and the current edge that federalism holds over sovereignty.

Twenty-nine per cent say they wish for a separate Quebec Olympic team and that number happens to be in the same ballpark as the average support of the Parti Québécois in the last three provincial elections.

That is not to say there are not sovereignist sympathizers who vote for parties other than the PQ. But a significant number of them do so because the issue of Quebec's political status is no longer their priority.

The Bloc Québécois routinely does better than 29 per cent in both public opinion polls and the ballot box. But the Bloc is not the engine of the sovereignty movement and that gives Gilles Duceppe a pass to beat the sovereignist drums more loudly in between elections than during actual campaigns. If sovereignty was a big winner for the Bloc, Duceppe would spend more time on it in the lead-up to actual elections.

On the other side of the ledger, the high proportion of Quebecers who describe themselves as Canadian nationalists matches the proportion of those who tell pollsters they would vote No in the event of another referendum.

In 2002, a poll done for the defunct Council for National Unity found that 58 per cent of francophone Quebecers would not describe themselves as federalists or sovereignists.

Eight years later, the Ipsos Reid poll suggests that at least some of those respondents are no longer reluctant to openly embrace pro-Canadian stances.

There is little doubt that the Vancouver Games gave Canada a bit of a shine in Quebec, but their halo also has a blinding effect. It makes it hard to distinguish the potentially longer-lasting aftershocks of Lucien Bouchard's simultaneous coming-out as a sovereignty skeptic.

10 March 2010 — Return to cover.