Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois
Credits: REUTERS/CHRISTINNE MUSCHI
Much of the coverage of the results has focused on the fact that just 52% of respondents would vote to keep Quebec part of Canada; 26% would punt la belle province and 22% were unsure how they would vote. But to me, the key statistic was that a full 88% of those polled felt "all the provinces should be treated equally, even if it upsets Quebec and risks separation."
That means that even the vast majority of Canadians who want Quebec to stay are no longer prepared to pay any price for that province's allegiance. A paltry 12% told pollsters that "the federal government should do all it can to keep Quebec part of Canada." Only a little more than one in 10 Canadians were in favour of granting Quebec special status to keep them part of Confederation. The overall mood of the rest of the country is: We'd mostly like Quebec to stay, but we are no longer prepared to grovel in return for the province's commitment.
That means the age of blackmail is over. Quebec now lacks the leverage to bully the rest of the country into expensive concessions in return for a promise of fealty. Half of us don't care whether Quebec stays or goes, and even the half who do don't feel especially strongly about it - certainly not strongly enough to throw more billions at buying Quebec's devotion. It's as if the rest of Canada has awakened and finally realized it is living with an insatiable spouse. We love you dear, but we can no longer take the constant stream of demands. Stay or go, but understand the torrent of lavish gifts has ceased.
This view is especially strong in Alberta, and no wonder. Since 1958, when Ottawa began paying equalization, the federal government has given over half a trillion dollars to have-not provinces. During those 54 years, Quebec has received half of that total - nearly $250 billion.
By contrast, Alberta and Albertans have contributed over $200 billion during the same period. In other words, for most of the period during which equalization has been paid, it has been Alberta's burden to subsidize Quebec's experiment in expensive social democracy. Cheap college and university tuition, inexpensive daycare, intrusive language police, forced French-language schooling and so on are expensive and, for the most part, Albertans have been taxed and taxed and taxed again to underwrite the costs.
That might explain why Abacus found the lowest support for keeping Quebec in Canada (43%) among Albertans (Ontarians were highest as 56%) and why Albertans were most eager (36%) to give Quebec the boot.
But while Albertans might be the most vocal in their eagerness to see Quebec go, they are far from alone in their indifference to Quebec's future. Remember, 88% of Canadians outside Quebec said Quebec should stay, but only if it is prepared to be treated as any other province.
This is especially good news given that Quebec is in the midst of a provincial election, one in which the separatist Parti Quebecios (PQ) stands a good chance of winning.
Already, PQ Leader Pauline Marois has threatened that should her party win, it will demand more autonomy and money from Ottawa or hold another sovereignty referendum. For instance, it will demand special EI benefits for Quebec's seasonal workers.
Good luck, Pauline. We Canadians are no longer in the mood.