Separatist defeat in Quebec elections calms investors

Separatist defeat in Quebec elections calms investors

The stunning defeat of the Parti Quebecois at the hands of the Liberal Party effectively kills the French-Canadian quest for autonomy – at least until the next election.

When premier Pauline Marois initiated provincial elections, after 18 months of a minority-PQ government, polls suggested a majority government might be within reach. Yet, it was the Liberal Party, ousted in 2012 from 10 years in power after a string of damaging corruption scandals, which mounted a stunning comeback and won a majority of seats in the parliament.

With Philippe Couillard as the new Quebec premier, the rest of Canada has been reassured that the issue of independence for Francophone Canada will remain in hibernation for the next five years.

Independence a real possibility

A partition of Canada is not nearly as improbable as the federal government might desire, and has been attempted twice before. At the last attempt in 1995, the separatists came within a heartbeat of achieving their long-sought dream of French-Canadian independence, losing a provincial referendum with only a few thousand votes.

The quest for more provincial autonomy from the federal government, ultimately becoming an issue of statehood, has dominated relations between Quebec and the rest of Canada (ROC) since the 1960s.

The crux of the issue is cultural and linguistic differences, accompanied by resentments of prejudicial dominance by Anglophone Canada – essentially dating back to the British Conquest of the French colony in the 18th Century. It has ensured that today, millions of Canadians neither identify as Canadian nor wish to be part of the country.

The economic dimension

The prospect of another referendum in Quebec, with the real possibility of the partition – or determined political attempts at succeeding – is a nightmare scenario for the federal government in Ottawa.

With the exception of a fringe terrorist group in the 1970s, the separatist struggle has been fought by peaceful, political means. Yet the loss, unlikely or not, of the second-most populated region that contributes nearly 20% of the national GDP, is no joking matter for Harper’s government.

An imagined partition and the insecurity surrounding it has been a major worry for investors, with financial markets paying close attention to developments in Quebec. Tens of thousands of Anglophones left Quebec for the other provinces in the last decades, with 42% in a poll before the election claiming they would consider moving as well if the Parti Quebecois won a majority government.

Many wealthy businessmen in Montreal are Anglophones, and their strong opposition to – and sometimes outright fear of – a separatist government has been blamed for a gradual shift of money and investments to Toronto.

Meanwhile, the public finances are already suffering from a staggering debt-load of $175 billion or 49% of the province’s GDP, by far the highest in Canada.

The continued resurgence of the referendum issue is unlikely to attract investors to Quebec over neighboring Ontario and even Toronto, which, aside from its infamous mayor, is seen more stable and less politically troublesome.

Categories: North America, Politics

About Author

Havard Bergo

Håvard is a foreign policy analyst who works in Kampala for LPC Consult International, a consulting company that specializes on developing projects in East Africa and Mozambique. He has previously worked with the United Nations in Bangkok and as a project manager for a research project in Montreal. Håvard graduated with an MSc in International Relations from the London School of Economics (LSE).