Quebec sovereignty referendum

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In 1980 the first referendum on Quebec indepedence was easily defeated with only 40% support. In 1995 a referendum on Quebec independence was defeated by a very narrow 50.6% to 49.4%. Another referendum is expected to occur in 2010, as the Parti Quebecois have promised to hold it within 18 months of coming to power in the next Quebec general election which is expected in late 2007.

Some believe it could have a cascading and destabilizing effect on both the rest of Canada and the United States by encouraging regional secession in Alaska, Hawaii (see Akaka Bill in particular), Puerto Rico, Newfoundland and perhaps even in California. See Nine Nations of North America for a good analysis of the fundamental factors that challenge both Canadian and American federalism.

Whether it occurs in 2009, 2010, or later, a Quebec sovereignty referendum would be no small thing for North American political culture:

  • Under the Clarity Act, a threshold of 60% support is required to achieve full federal assent to separation; however, a result between 50% and 60% will not settle the issue as the Act is not accepted by the Parti nor federal Bloc Quebecois which may form a unilateral government and leave a substantial part of Quebec without its elected federal representatives (the Bloc members); A constitutional crisis would surely result from any outcome between 50% and 60% in favour of sovereignty
  • Even limited success would specifically embolden minority language groups in all of North America, especially Puerto Rico and Hawaii which have a history of independence (and Puerto Rico lacks full representation as a state), and especially Hispanics in California and Texas; While the Quebec government would certainly avoid stirring up these movements, it would be an inevitable consequence of a minority language group achieving political sovereignty
  • All North American trade and defense arrangements would have to be revisted, taking into account that the Quebec population is notoriously anti-war and isolationist, having refused conscription in both WWI and WWII and since that time being overwhelmingly against participation in British or American led wars (a position that arguably dates back to the 17th century Acadians and Habitants and is unlikely ever to change, as it is central to the North American French speaking identity not to participate in global conflicts)

This event would also certainly trigger deeper questioning of the value of US federalism, especially if the White House is still held by a group that is so unpopular in most Canadian border states (notably WA and New England) as to be considered treasonous. Jeremy Rifkin has written on the 'love affair' of the 'blue states' with Canada. Quebec separation would likely permit that to take a more consummated form, with perhaps the Canadian Maritimes seeking to renew its historical ties with New England and weaken ties with Ontario.

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