Utopia and Dystopia on the Saint Lawrence

Letter From Canada

A quarter of Canada's 30 million people live in the province of Quebec. About five million are French Canadians, largely descended from hardy Norman peasants who came here 300 years ago. A quarter of the five million want to secede from Canada. A larger (but indeterminate) proportion favor as much autonomy as possible without risking a total break. One of the two main provincial parties, the Parti Québécois (PQ), at least rhetorically favors intimate "sovereignty" and held unsuccessful referenda to this end in 1980 and 1995. "Sovereignty" is something less than full independence; the latter word evokes much less popular support. Both referenda asked only for a "mandate to negotiate," but they didn't get one. Polls have always indicated a blunter question would fare much worse. Since about 40 percent of the province—including a million English speakers—consistently oppose sovereignty, support is unlikely to rise above 60 percent.

Many opponents of sovereignty have long argued that a real separation would inevitably lead to partitioning of the province, with Canada retaining several portions, including the huge northern territory and at least part of Montreal. The case was first fully presented in a 1980 book, Partition: The Price of Quebec Independence, by Lionel Albert and William Shaw. A 1996 poll by L'Actualité, the main Quebec newsmagazine,...

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