Quebec sovereigntists ponder implications of Britain's vote to leave the EU
The flag of Quebec flies in this undated file photo. (Tom Hanson/The Canadian Press)
Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press
Published Friday, June 24, 2016 6:25PM EDT
MONTREAL -- As Quebecers gathered to celebrate Friday's Fete nationale holiday, many were wondering what effect Britain's decision to leave the European Union could have on the province's independence movement.
The June 24 holiday has traditionally served as a rallying cry for those pushing for Quebec sovereignty, and some Montrealers lining the streets for this year's parade suggested the vote could give that cause a boost.
"I think it will help us," said Kathy Pepin, who had painted the logos of the separatist Bloc Quebecois and Parti Quebecois on her face for the occasion.
"I think people will realize that if (the British) can do it, we're big enough as a province, so now we need to gather our own resources and our tools to make our own decisions."
But with no Quebec referendum looming for probably several years, the results of the British vote are unlikely to have an immediate impact on sovereigntist fortunes.
The next Quebec election is set for the fall of 2018, and the Parti Quebecois remains leaderless after the departure of Pierre Karl Peladeau earlier this year.
If the PQ fails to win that vote, its next crack at taking power would likely be 2023.
And even if the PQ does form a government in two years, there's a good chance that whoever has become the sovereigntist premier will take a go-slow approach to the divisive referendum question.
Most of the PQ leadership candidates have been reluctant to commit to a firm timeline for calling a referendum, with only one, Martine Ouellet, promising one in a first mandate.
On Friday, the leadership hopefuls were cautious about drawing conclusions regarding the significance of the vote.
Perceived front-runner Alexandre Cloutier said although there are many differences between Quebec's situation and Britain's, he was encouraged that governments around the world --including Canada's -- seemed to accept a tight vote result.
"I commend the reaction of Canada's prime minister, who recognized the rule of 50 per cent plus one, which in my opinion in the only rule applicable in a democracy," he said.
"All around the world, national leaders recognized the people's will to freely decide their political and economic future."
One of his leadership rivals, Veronique Hivon, said the result shows discussions on sovereignty are not a thing of the past.
"We had an example yesterday (Thursday), in a different way, of how questions of sovereignty are still very pertinent," she said.
But whoever is named party leader Oct. 7 will face the formidable task of persuading young Quebecers to embrace a political option that has been in the doldrums in recent years.
While there is no doubt most Quebecers feel very nationalist, poll after poll has suggested those sentiments do not translate into hard-core support for leaving Canada.
Some of the politicians mingling with the Fleur-de-lis-waving crowd at the parade, such as NDP foreign affairs critic Helene Laverdiere, felt the political and economic issues at play in the vote on Britain's exit from the EU had little to do with those in Quebec.
"I think it's two very different situations," she said, adding she hopes the British can come together after a divisive vote.
Such arguments didn't stop some sovereigntists on the streets of Montreal from seeing at least a small symbolic victory in the Leave side's win.
Paul-Andre Girard, who attended the parade dressed head-to-toe in blue and white, said it was nice to see a nation vote for more self-determination after what he saw as disappointing results in two Quebec referendums and the defeat of the independence forces in the Scottish referendum in 2014.
Another flag-draped PQ supporter, Marcel Bergeron, said he had mixed feelings about the vote because he believes in the idea of shared markets.
But he understood the need for self-determination.
"There's also people's need to feel at home and if anyone knows that feeling it's Quebecers," he said. "I don't know if (the British) felt threatened but, if so, I understand."