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This is the second of two articles examining rising support for the Parti Québécois. The first explains how the support for independence is not rising among young Quebecers.

A surprising resurgence of popularity for the Parti Québécois is not driven by growing support for sovereignty. But many Quebecers nonetheless identify themselves as mainly sovereigntist. What underpins this preference? Beyond an obvious preference for sovereignty, which of their views distinguish them from other Quebecers?

It’s not their opinions about major policy challenges of the day. On health care, affordable housing and the environment, there is no great divide. It’s also not the role of the state. What sets them apart are grievances with our federal system coupled with a strong sense of identity, our 2024 edition of the Confederation of Tomorrow survey shows.

Same challenges, same concerns

On health care, about one in two Quebecers lack confidence in their ability to get medical treatment within a reasonable period of time. This proportion is the same for those who identify as mainly sovereigntists and those who identify as mainly federalists.

On housing, roughly the same proportion of Quebecers (just under one in two) disapprove of how the province is managing affordability. But, again, there is no difference in opinion between those who identify as sovereigntists and those who don’t.

On the environment, same pattern. Sovereigntists and federalists are divided more or less evenly between those who agree and those who disagree that protecting the environment is more important than protecting jobs.

Looking beyond single issues, maybe Quebec sovereigntists are more pro-government, more supportive of the state (at least the provincial one) as a tool for advancing collective goals? This also does not appear to be the case.

In fact, Quebecers who identify mainly as sovereigntists are a little more likely than average to prefer smaller governments or the status quo instead of larger governments that offer more services. And sovereigntists are more likely than federalists to say governments have a negative impact on most people’s lives. Federalists tend to see governments’ impact as positive.

Perhaps most interestingly, the spectrum of left-right ideology is almost identical among sovereigntists and federalists. In both groups, about half place themselves in the centre, a quarter on the left, and a quarter on the right.

What does make a difference?

What distinguishes sovereigntists are their views on two other types of question.

The first of these is obvious: federalism. It goes without saying that sovereigntists are much less convinced of the merits of Canada’s federal system. Sovereigntists are twice as likely as the Quebec average to disagree that federalism offers more advantages than disadvantages for their province.

And a strong majority of sovereigntists believe Quebec lacks its rightful share of influence in national decisions and receives less than its fair share of federal spending. Three in four sovereigntists (75 per cent) favour a shift in powers from Ottawa to Quebec City compared with a provincial average of 42 per cent.

The second set of opinions that distinguishes sovereigntists from other Quebecers relates to identity, with elements of both pride and grievance.  Most Quebecers feel a sense of attachment to their province. But sovereigntists are much more likely to feel strongly attached (72 per cent) compared with the provincial average (44 per cent). Forty-three percent of sovereigntists identify as a Quebecer only – rather than as a Quebecer who is also Canadian – compared with the provincial average of only 17 per cent.

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It is this strong sense of Quebec identity that many sovereigntists feel is rejected by the rest of Canada. Overall, 30 per cent of Quebecers disagree that their cultural identity is respected in Canada today. For sovereigntists, it’s 52 per cent.

Conversely, 40 per cent of Quebecers overall strongly agree that their culture is misunderstood by the rest of Canada. For sovereigntists, it’s 67 per cent. And, finally, almost nine in 10 sovereigntists (88 per cent) say the French language in Quebec is threatened.

The importance of identity in underpinning support for sovereignty will come as no surprise for those most familiar with the sovereignty movement or Quebec politics. But Canadian political leaders would do well to keep it in mind as we approach a federal election expected by October 2025.

At the moment, many of the flashpoints in federal-provincial relations relate to the federal price on carbon (which doesn’t apply in Quebec because of its cap-and-trade system), or to the use of the spending power to advance federal priorities.

But promises and policies in these areas are not likely to shrink or spark support for sovereignty, particularly if the PQ eventually returns to government. It will be federal (and “rest of Canada”) reactions to issues related to language and identity. This doesn’t mean keeping quiet; rather, it means being politically aware and astute. The worst possible option is thinking that these issues don’t exist.

Methodological details

The Confederation of Tomorrow surveys are annual studies conducted by an association of some of the country’s leading public policy and socio-economic research organizations: the Environics Institute for Survey Research, the Centre of Excellence on the Canadian Federation, the Canada West Foundation, the Centre d’analyse politique – Constitution Fédéralisme, the Brian Mulroney Institute of Government and the First Nations Financial Management Board.

The surveys give voice to Canadians about the major issues shaping the future of the federation and their political communities.

The 2024 study surveyed 6,036 adults and was conducted between Jan. 13 and April 13 (82 per cent of the responses were collected between Jan. 17 and Feb. 1) with 94 per cent of the responses collected online. The remaining responses were collected by telephone from respondents living in the North or on First Nations reserves.

The results presented above are based on surveys of 1,621 Quebecers, 1,297 of whom were francophones.

Survey responses are weighted by age, gender, region, education, Indigenous identity and home language to be representative of the actual distribution of the adult Canadian population.

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Charles Breton
Charles Breton is the executive director of the Centre of Excellence on the Canadian Federation at the Institute for Research on Public Policy (IRPP) and the former research director at Vox Pop Labs. He holds a PhD from the University of British Columbia. Follow him on Twitter: @charlesbreton
Andrew Parkin
Andrew Parkin is the executive director of the Environics Institute for Survey Research. X: @parkinac    

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