When the Party Quebecois won a solid victory to regain power in Quebec's provincial elections this week, the outcome once more threw Canada into a constitutional crisis. The party, or PQ as it is better known, wants the French-speaking province to secede from the rest of Canada.
The PQ, which won a solid majority in the provincial parliamentary elections, has pledged to hold a referendum in 10 months on the question of secession.Many people in the rest of Canada, upset with what they see as favored treatment of Quebec, might be just as happy to see them go.
But the departure of Quebec may not be nearly as certain as the separatists hope. Despite the PQ's seizure of power in provincial affairs this week, the election may have been less critical than it appears.
First, the PQ received only 45 percent of the total vote cast. While that was enough to win a parliamentary majority, it is far short of what would be needed to win a referendum on secession.
Second, in giving provincial power to the PQ, local voters may have been expressing dissatisfaction with nine years of less-than-effective Liberal Party rule in Quebec, rather than indicating a desire to secede.
Third, the people of Quebec voted in a 1980 referendum on secession and rejected the idea by a 60-40 margin. If Quebec polls are accurate, those same figures would prevail today.
Fourth, if secession were imminent, business leaders in Quebec would start retrenching. But there is no sign of that; most firms continue to push ahead with plans for investment and expansion.
However, the PQ is planning to launch a major campaign over the next 10 months in favor of secession from Canada. If it were to succeed, it would be a blow to Canada. But it would be an even bigger blow to Quebec, despite the dreams and ambitions of PQ enthusiasts.
The PQ seems to believe that if the province were to become independent, Quebec could somehow still maintain all its privileges and advantages in the way of trade, nearly half of Canada's milk quotas, market access, common currency and other Canadian national benefits. That is unlikely.
The people of Quebec proved in 1980 that they were wiser than the separatists in their midst. Evidently they need to send the same message once again.