Today is the 15th anniversary of the last referendum in Quebec. Oops. The most recent one. Not last, unfortunately. I cannot help but be amused that the previous referendum took place the day before Halloween.
The Montreal Gazette has a series of stories and some polls about where things stand today. The main article seems just a bit alarmist, arguing that the choice of in or out next time will be shaped by how little Canada can reform, as demonstrated by a lack of Canadian willingness to bend more. This ignores countervailing pressures and dynamics: that Quebec has gotten much of what it has wanted so it is not that clear what is left to gain; that the numbers used about Anglophone and Allophone (native language is neither English nor French) support ignore the changes in population size (more Allophones should mean more "Non" voters).
Indeed, the politician with the most to lose/win in a sovereignty debate, Pauline Marois, leader of the Parti Quebecois, is running away from promises of a referendum as soon as possible. That suggests that she knows that running on a referendum platform may actually be a vote-loser.
The paper also had a set of survey results about whether folks in Canada identify themselves with the country, their province, both, neither and about a bunch of words: Canada, secession, separatism, federalism, sovereignty, nationalism. The strangest result: that nationalism is viewed most positively. I guess that might be cause Quebec nationalists and Canadian nationalists can both see nationalism as a good thing. And in a time where Harper promises to defend Canada first, especially the Arctic, nationalism is apparently in. I would never have guessed that nationalism as a word would be so popular.
Likewise, sovereignty plays pretty well across all groups, although better Francophones than others. In the survey, the words were used without context apparently, so some folks could read sovereignty as referring to the Arctic rather than Quebec. But separatism and secession do pretty poorly among all groups, especially English speakers and allophones (separatism is more popular among French speakers and less popular among English speakers and allophones compared to secession). This, of course, means that framing of the debate and of questions is key. If the next referendum is viewed as a choice of sovereignty, whatever that means, it could possibly win while anything defined as separ
The Clarity Act is supposed to make framing harder--the referendum language is likely to be less confusing than last time (hard not to be). The key limitation of this particular survey is that it is just about words, not about political programs, promised positions, or pithy politicians. A referendum would be a huge political battle with stakes, and that would focus almost entirely on where the Francophone public stands on the issue. English speakers and Allophones are unlikely to vote for Oui, regardless of whether the question invokes separatism or sovereignty.
I do not really fear a yes vote in a referendum--I think it is unlikely to win as the dynamics of the past 15 years have largely gone in Quebec's direction, reducing the passion and the perceived need for independence. I just fear a referendum because it will be a very costly distraction from everything else: crumbling infrastructure, the future of health care, the problem of high taxes, etc. It will waste time and money, and feed the extreme nationalists on either end of the spectrum. For what? To remind Canada that Quebec is a pain the collective rear end? I think Canadians know that.