A SEPARATIST PARTY’S big loss in a provincial election early last week won’t put the Quebec independence movement to rest for good, but it does suggest that voters in the predominantly French-speaking province are looking past the identity politics of bygone decades. Quebec Premier Pauline Marois had called the snap election in the hope of gaining a parliamentary majority for her Parti Quebecois. During the campaign, she was somewhat coy about whether and when she might seek a new referendum on separating from Canada. But other top party figures expressed their desire for independence in passionate terms. Not coincidentally, the party, founded in the 1960s, went down to its worst defeat since 1970.
The position of French speakers in Canada has been a source of controversy since the British gained control of Quebec in 1763, and French Canadians today have real concerns about losing their culture. Yet the last half-century of wrestling over independence has inflicted plenty of damage. As past secession referendums hastened the flight of capital from Quebec, the rest of Canada moved forward: Toronto and Vancouver emerged as globally focused melting pots; Calgary became an energy capital. But Montreal, once Canada’s largest and most cosmopolitan city, has languished. Secession would only increase its isolation.
The Liberals, the strongly pro-Canada party that won big last week, emphasized the province’s weak economy and troubled public finances. In contrast, Parti Quebecois leaders gave little indication they’ve thought through the economic challenges that independence would present. Instead, Marois emphasized a “charter of values” widely seen as targeting public employees who are Muslim women . If anything, greater diversity in the province points to a way beyond the old French-vs.-English divide. As the multicultural ethos deepens, prosperity lies not in leaving Canada, but from deepening ties with the entire world.