Today is Canada's 147th birthday and as a present to itself,
the country might finally be putting its national identity crisis to rest.
Since its birth, America's northern neighbor has been grappling with a
conflict between its British and French roots. The residents of its
French-speaking province, Quebec, have by and large felt no great deal of
affection for their English-speaking countrymen, and have several times
attempted to secede. But now, on the occasion of Canada's birthday, that split
appears to be healing -- at least in the minds of Quebec residents.
According to a new poll from
the Association for Canadian Studies, a Montreal-based think tank, some 64
percent of Quebecois, as natives of Canada's predominantly French-speaking
province are known, say they no longer feel the need to choose between
allegiance to Quebec and Canada, perhaps signaling the end of Canada's cultural
Quebecois separatism and nationalism have long been defining
features of Canadian politics, and Tuesday's finding marks a significant
milestone for a region that has often resisted being part of Canada and
has agitated for independence. Canadian territory was first colonized by France in
the 16th century and remained under the French colonial yoke until 1763. Ever
since, New France, now called Quebec, has existed as a distinct culture within
Canada. This separate identity has often clashed with the rest of Canada, with
its roots as a British colony. That conflict has spawned two popular
referendums for independence, in 1980 and 1995, both of which failed.
But even as residents of Quebec are feeling less of a divide
between their Canadian and Quebecois loyalties, they aren't exactly rushing
into Canada's embrace. When the ACS pollsters asked Quebecois how attached they
feel to the rest of Canada, they found that their level of attachment has
remained mostly the same over the last 10 years.
For now, Quebec has largely put its ambitions for
independence on ice. In April elections, the separatist Parti Quebecois, the
main political vehicle for Quebecois nationalism, lost control of the
provincial government to the more federally-minded Liberal party. Many
observers saw it as a sign of a newfound fondness for Canada among the
province's historically antagonistic residents.
Moreover, Quebec's young people aren't hankering for
independence. According to the ACS poll, 65 percent of Quebecois between the
ages of 18 and 24 say they are strongly or somewhat strongly attached to
Canada. This finding is in line with a June poll from ACS that found 61 percent
of Quebecois were not interested in separating from Canada.
Though Quebec's independence movement isn't gaining much
traction, nationalist sentiment in Quebec is being channeled toward other
expressions of the province's French-inspired identity. During its time in power
from 2012 to 2014 at the provincial level, the Parti Quebecois pushed projects
promoting the French language and religious secularism. Though it died in the
provincial legislature, Bill 14 would have mandated that Quebec's business
owners advertise in French and restricted the use of English in the workplace.
The Parti Quebecois also tried to promote secularism through such things as the
Quebec Charter of Values, which, if approved by the legislature, would have
banned public employees from wearing religious symbols, such as the Muslim
veil, at work.
Despite the dissipation of Quebec's identity crisis, there is
still appetite for similar legislation. Among francophone respondents, 54
percent would like to see the charter become a topic of public debate once more
after it effectively died with the Liberal party's electoral win.
That public sentiment is having
an impact on Quebec's Liberal government. This fall, Premier Philippe Couillard
is planning to introduce a diluted version of the charter at the provincial
ANDRE PICHETTE/AFP/Getty Images