With the sovereignty flames being fanned up again in Quebec, it is not premature to contemplate the rest of Canada’s posture on the national unity front. In particular, is there a willingness to fight for a unified Canada, or has that appetite long faded with Canadians more prepared to see Quebec go?
It’s a valid question as the prospects look favourable for a sovereignist victory in a possible near-future referendum. CROP reported back in December that about 44 percent of Quebecers support sovereignty, the same level as during the 1994 election campaign that brought the Parti Québécois back into power, a year before the razor-thin result of the 1995 referendum. Given what we've been witnessing from Quebec, the signs are quite present that we are now in a "pre-campaign" period of that future referendum.
Analysis presented here is based on the 2011 Federal Election online exit poll administered by Ipsos Reid (and donated to Wilfrid Laurier University). The survey has a sample of nearly 40,000 Canadian voters from the 2011 federal election. All of them were asked whether they “want Quebec to become sovereign, that is, no longer part of the Canadian federation.”
While the vast majority of Canadians outside Quebec certainly do not want Quebec to leave, a sizable proportion has no problem with that scenario. Among the approximately 28,000 respondents from outside of Quebec, nearly 5000 (18 percent) want to see Quebec separate from Canada.
Who are these people? Are they randomly distributed, or are there some common attributes to them? In particular, are they more likely to support any particular federal party? Do they reside mainly in certain regions? Are they of any particular ideological persuasion? These will be looked at here with the available data.
A future Quebec referendum on sovereignty will naturally animate the main federal party leaders, particularly whichever one controls the government. It is worthwhile, then, to see if there is any partisan pattern among those who in the rest of Canada support Quebec sovereignty.
As it turns out, some interesting patterns do emerge. Table 1 reports how this breaks down across party lines. Among the 4674 respondents outside Quebec who favour Quebec sovereignty, nearly 2700 of them, 60 percent, voted Conservative in 2011. The NDP is in second place at 27 percent. The Liberals and Greens drew the fewest number of pro-Quebec sovereignty supports outside Quebec, but this may simply reflect the fact that the Liberal vote in 2011 was historically low, and the Green party typically captures a small percentage of voters.
When looked at a different perspective, the Conservative party still seems to hold a higher proportion of voters who wish to see Quebec leave the federation. The far-right column of Table 1 reverses the axes to illustrate how voters for the various parties distribute across the sovereignty question. Here, we see 22 percent of Conservative voters favours Quebec sovereignty. This is nearly three times that of Liberal voters. NDP and Green Party voters occupy a middle ground, with 16 and 17 percent of its voters favouring Quebec sovereignty.
It should be noted that the Quebec sovereignty question offered four possible answers: Strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, and strongly disagree. As shown in Table 2, the parties distinguish themselves here, too. For instance, 12 percent of Conservative voters “strongly agree” with the idea of Quebec separating from Canada. This is nine percentage points above that for the Liberals (3%), and four to five percentage points above that of the NDP and Green Party. At the other extreme, nearly 70 percent of Conservative voters are strongly opposed to the idea of Quebec separating, which is 14 percentage points below that of the Liberals, and about five points below that of the other two parties.
Relatively high level of support for Quebec independence within Conservative ranks is not a big surprise. The contemporary Conservative party has roots in the Reform party, which drew voters known for their anti-Quebec stances. There may remain some lingering and durable anti-Quebec sentiments among a sizable proportion of Conservative supporters.
As shown in Table 3, there is some evidence that shows support for sovereignty is higher within in regions that typically vote Conservative. Almost 30 percent of voters in Alberta favour Quebec sovereignty. British Columbia and Saskatchewan are not too far behind, at 20 percent and 21 percent, respectively.
However, “second place” here is given to Newfoundland and Labrador, with nearly a quarter of respondents from this province favouring Quebec sovereignty. It should be noted that while Newfoundland and Labrador is not normally friendly to the federal Conservative party, the province has had strained relations with Quebec over hydro-electricity development. Strong feelings get aroused at the mere mention of “Churchill Falls.” Apart from Newfoundland and Labrador, the remaining three Atlantic provinces show the lowest level of support for Quebec sovereignty, along with Ontario and Manitoba.
One question in the survey simply asks respondents whether they consider themselves to be “left, right or centre.” Most, nearly 56 percent, reported being in the “centre,” while 23 percent were on the “left,” and 22 percent on the “right.” Within each of these three general ideological groups, the highest proportion of pro-Quebec sovereignists is found in the “right,” with 23 percent of them showing support for Quebec independence. This, too, is not totally surprising as Quebec has acted as a proponent for progressive discourse in Canada, and thus, those on the right are also likely to reject not only the ideas of the “left,” but the social democratic model that Quebec sovereignists try to project. Those on the “left” show the smallest level of support, 10 percent, for Quebec sovereignty, while those in the centre are, as it turns out appropriately enough, in the middle, at 15 percent.
Access to the data can be obtained from LISPOP's data portal.