Canada puzzled by the lure of secession

Quebec referendum: A close result is predicted as the rest of the country asks Pourquoi rather than Oui or Non

The 5 million Quebeckers who were eligible to vote poured into polling stations yesterday to determine the fate of their province and all of Canada. The ballot paper offered two simple options: "Oui" or "Non" to attempting at last to forge a country under their own flag and their own government.

This morning they and Canadians everywhere will have the answer. Many last night were predicting a close vote. If that is what happens, little will be clarified. A No result, if it is slim, will not resolve the issue of Quebec's status within Canada. A narrow Yes will open months of bickering over how exactly Quebec should be allowed to break away and when.

All the while, the rest of Canada and much of the world are asking Quebeckers a different question: "Pourquoi?". Why are you so agonised about being a part of the country that three years ago was identified by the United Nations as being the most "liveable in" on the planet? What drives so many of you to want to take the gamble of going it alone?

Figuring that puzzle was easier 15 years ago, when Quebec held its first referendum on separation, with the late Rene Levesque leading the secessionists. Quebeckers had reason to complain that French-speakers were still widely considered second-class citizens in Canada and to worry that their culture and language were threatened by anglophone domination.

Few Quebeckers argue the same today, however. A survey in the francophone weekly magazine L'Actualite earlier this month found that only 4 per cent of voters in the province believed that francophone society was under siege and only a slightly higher number thought the French language might disappear from Canada.

Among those who were planning to vote Yes to separation, 36 per cent cited the need for Quebec to wrest from Ottawa the political power to determine its own economic and political fate, while 28 per cent expressed a weariness with constitutional wranglesand a feeling that breaking away was the only remaining viable solution.

Whether or not they believe it is threatened with assimilation, most Quebeckers are clear that they live in a culture that is different from the rest of Canada's. Seeing that does not need scientific surveys. It is more than language that sets Quebec apart (80 per cent of Quebeckers are primarily francophone).

Visiting Quebec from outside is like stepping into provincial France 20 years ago. There is a grittiness you will not find elsewhere in North America. People smoke more. There are bistros and chip shops that offer hot dogs, frites and "petits liqueurs".

Among a small knot of people who stopped on a pavement in Montreal to witness an outside broadcast by a national radio station, Stephane Lahoud, 24, said it was neither economic issues nor fear of cultural erosion that was driving him to vote yes. For him, Quebec is just different from anywhere else in Canada and that is all. It should therefore be a sovereign land. And the main difference, he contended, is one of political and social values. "The anglophones are just more to the right than we are. We have a system where if someone is sick and needs to go to the hospital, we help them. In the West, you get treatment if you can pay for it. If you can't too bad."

The last 15 years, during which there have been three aborted attempts to amend the Canadian constitution in Quebec's favour, have also left many in Quebec resentful and bitter. Jean Hoffman, 34, an international lawyer, remembers that in 1980, the then Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau, promised to reward a No vote in Quebec - which he won - with early constitutional reforms. It did not happen. Now, Jean Chretien, Canada's present leader, is making the same pledge. "I don't believe him," Mr Hoffman admits.

Still, Mr Hoffman admitted to being undecided. He had been moved, he said, by last week's demonstration by hundreds of thousands of Canadians in Montreal pleading for Quebec to stay in the federation. "I just hope that all those people who came will remind Mr Chretien and make him keep his word".

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
News
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Life and Style
Sexual health charities have campaigned for the kits to be regulated
healthAmerican woman who did tells parents there is 'nothing to be afraid of'
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
The John Peel Lecture has previously been given by Pete Townshend of The Who, Billy Bragg and Charlotte Church
musicGodfather of punk will speak on 'free music in a capitalist society'
News
peopleAt least it's for a worthwhile cause
News
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments