Sovereignty doesn't appear on the Parti Québécois's Christmas wish list for this year, but a new public opinion poll has given it renewed hope for the future.
In fact, many Quebeckers already see themselves as politically independent, said Minister of International Affairs Jean-François Lisée, while commenting on a CROP poll showing support for sovereignty at 44 per cent, a three-point increase over the previous CROP poll in November.
"The distance between Quebec and Canada is growing. It is as though at many levels Quebec is already independent in its mind, in its way of making decisions," Mr. Lisée said.
According to the minister, Quebec and Canada are slowly drifting apart and Canada has become an "impediment" to Quebec. Ottawa's decision to impose a toll on the future Champlain bridge and its threat to challenge the PQ secular charter banning overt religious symbols in the public sector were examples of how the federal government's interventions were hindering Quebec's ability to make "sound decisions," he said.
Mr. Lisée called it the "decanadianization" of Quebec and the "dequebecization" of Canada, comparing the relationship to that of an old couple on the brink of divorce.
"We are not angry at each other. We don't love each other very much. We are just indifferent. We barely talk. We are in different bedrooms. At some point there is going to be an issue that says: Okay, this couple has been over for a while. Let's have separate apartments," Mr. Lisée said.
Quebec Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard was surprised and disappointed by Mr. Lisée's comments. Mr. Couillard insisted that Quebeckers helped build Canada and were still attached to the country. According to the Liberal Leader, a senior minister such as Mr. Lisée has a duty to represent all Quebeckers regardless of their political beliefs.
"The statement is anti-democratic, disrespectful of our fellow Canadians and of a majority of Quebeckers who are still attached to Canada. We were under the impression that Mr. Lisée was the minister of all Quebeckers. Obviously he isn't. Quebeckers participate in this country. Quebeckers also built this country," Mr. Couillard stated in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail.
The PQ minority government is not planning to hold a referendum on political independence any time soon. But the temptation to hold an election early next year may become irresistible if support for the government continues to grow.
The CROP poll published Wednesday in the Montreal daily La Presse and Quebec City's Le Soleil shows the PQ and the Liberals in a tie at 35 per cent, followed by the Coalition Avenir Québec at 18 per cent and Québec Solidaire at 10 per cent. After 15 months in office, the PQ minority government's approval rating has jumped to 41 per cent, an increase of nine percentage points over the previous month.
The PQ has also increased its support among the key francophone voters who decide the fate of governments in the province, according to the poll. According to the poll, the PQ now has the support of 40 per cent of francophone voters, compared with 27 per cent for the Liberals and 20 per cent for the CAQ. The government's approval rating has jumped from a low of 28 per cent last June to 41 per cent in December.
The increase in support for sovereignty as well as for the PQ comes at a time when Quebec has been engaged in a divisive debate over the secular charter. The issue has polarized Quebeckers, helping the PQ win over large segments of voters, especially those living in the outlying, predominantly francophone regions as well as among the least-educated portion of the population, according to the survey.
A passionate debate is expected during the public hearings on the secular charter bill beginning in January. It will set the tone for a political confrontation between the PQ and the Liberals when the National Assembly reconvenes in February as the government eyes the spring for a possible general election.