The Quebec sovereignty movement refers to the history and present status of multiple, multi-lateral political movements aimed at attaining statehood for the Canadian province of Quebec. Supporters of the movement advocate a variety of proposals. While some sovereignists do advocate full independence, others have advocated sovereignty association or sovereignty partnership, under which Quebec, while becoming a country of its own, would still continue to maintain a different type of economic and politic relationship with Canada.
In practice, "separatist" and "sovereignist" are terms used to describe individuals wanting the province of Quebec to separate from Canada to become a country of its own, however the former term is perceived as pejorative for people related with the movement.
The most apparent justification for sovereignty is the fact that Quebec has a french-speaking majority (80%), in contrast to the rest of Canada, which consists of eight overwhelmingly (greater than 90%) English-speaking provinces. New Brunswick is officially bilingual and about one-third Francophone. The territory of Nunavut primarily speaks Inuktitut, a central justification for that territiory's creation—splitting from the Northwest Territories (which is far more multi-lingual). With regards to the creation of the sovereignist movement, language issues were but a sub-strata of larger cultural, social and political differences. Many scholars point to historical events as framing the cause for ongoing support for sovereignty in Quebec, while more contemporary pundits and politicians may point to the aftermath of more recent developments like the Canada Act of 1982, the Meech Lake Accord or the Charlottetown Accord.
Supporters of sovereignty for Quebec believe that the current relationship between the province of Quebec and Canada doesn't reflect Quebec's social, political and economic development. Moreover, many ascribe to the notion that without appropriately recognizing that the people of Quebec are culturally distinct, Quebec will remain chronically disadvantaged in favour of the English-Canadian majority. There is also the question of whether the French language can survive within the geographic boundaries of Quebec and where French-Canadian society and culture impact what is an inherently multi-cultural country. Further, given Canada's modern founding as a French colony and the constant and consistent influence of French-Canadian culture and society on Canada's historical development, it becomes increasingly difficult to determine whether Canada could exist at all without Quebec. Separatists and Independentists are generally opposed to the present federal system in Canada and do not believe it can be reformed in a way that could satisfy the needs of Quebec's French speaking majority. A key component in the argument in favour of overt political independence is that new legislation and a new system of governance could best secure the future development of modern Québécois culture. Additionally, there is wide-ranging debate as to defence, monetary policy, currency, international-trade and relations and whether renewed federalism - a process which would give political recognition to the Quebec nation (in as much as other 'founding' nations, such as Canadian Natives and Inuit in addition to British-Islanders) could satisfy the historic disparities between these cultural nations and create a more cohesive and egalitarian Canada.
Several attempts at reforming the federal system of Canada have thus far failed because of, particularly, the conflicting interests between sovereignists' representatives and the other provincial governments' representatives (see Constitutional debate of Canada). There is also a degree of resistance throughout Quebec and the rest of Canada to re-open constitutional debate for a number of reasons, in part, because of the nature of these failures—not all of which were the result simply of sovereignists and federalists not getting along. To cite one case, in a recent round of constitutional reform (see the Meech Lake Accord), Elijah Harper, an aboriginal leader from Manitoba, was able to prevent ratification of the agreement in the provincial legislature, arguing that the accord did not address the interests of Canada's aboriginal population. This was a move to recognize that other provinces represent distinct cultural entities, such as the aboriginal population in Canada's Prairies or the people of Newfoundland (which contains significant and culturally distinct French-Canadian, English-Canadian, Irish-Canadian and Aboriginal cultures).
Perhaps the most significant basis of support for Quebec's sovereignty movement lies in more recent political events. For practical purposes, many political pundits use the political career and efforts of René Lévesque as a marker for the beginnings of what is now considered the contemporary movement, although more broadly-accepted consensus appears on the contemporary movement finding its origins in a period called "The Quiet Revolution" (see more on the Quiet Revolution below).
René Lévesque, architect of the first referendum on sovereignty, claimed a willingness to work for change in the Canadian framework after the federalist victory in the referendum of 1980. This approach was dubbed le beau risque ("the beautiful risk"), and it led to many ministers of the Lévesque's government to resign in protestation. The 1982 repatriation of the Canadian Constitution did not solve the issue in the point of view of the majority of sovereignist. The constitutional amendment of 1982 was agreed to by representatives from 9 of the 10 provinces (with René Lévesque abstaining). Although it has not been ratified by the Province of Quebec, the constitution applies to all citizens of Canada and is integral to the political and legal systems used in Quebec. See Patriation for further details.
While it is suggested that there existed a belief amongst the people of Quebec that a harmonizing constitution geared to recognize the people of Quebec would be signed in 1982, there are unquestionably numerous other possible reasons the 'Yes' campaign went down to defeat. The economy of Quebec suffered measurably following the election of the sovereignist Parti Québécois and continued to during the course of the campaign. The Canadian dollar lost much of its value and, during coverage of the dollar's recovery against U.S. currency, there were repeated citations of the referendum and political instability caused by it cited as cause for the fall. Some have also suggested that faith in a promised constitutional agreement with the rest of Canada is widely acknowledged to be the cause of the failure of the Yes vote of the first referendum. But others suggest there were promises of constitutional reform to address outstanding political issues between the province and the federal government both before and since without any sign of particularly greater expectation those promises would be filled to any greater or lesser degree. There remains no conclusive evidence that the sovereignty movement derives significant support today because of anything that was promised back in the 1970s.
It is sometimes suggested by proponents of the sovereignty movement that many people in Quebec feel "had" for believing the constitutional promises that the federal government and Pierre Trudeau made just before the 1980 Quebec referendum. The constitutional reform promises made by Trudeau and the federal government were not delivered on paper or agreed upon in principle by the federal government or the other provincial governments. But one conclusion that appears to be universal is that one event in particular – dubbed "the night of the long knives" – energized the sovereignist movement during the 1980s. This event involved a "back-room" deal, struck between Trudeau, representing the federal government, and all of the other provinces, save Quebec. It was here that Trudeau was able to gain agreement on the content of the new constitution, while the separatist premier René Lévesque was simply left out. And it may well be that a certain number of Quebecers did and may even now feel "had" both about the nature of that deal and how Trudeau (a Quebecer himself) went about reaching it.
Regardless of Quebec government's refusal to approve the 1982 constitutional amendment because the promised reforms were not implemented (along with other numerous items within the constitution which infuriated Quebec politicians), the amendment went into effect. To many in Quebec, the 1982 constitutional amendment without Quebec's approval is still viewed as a historic political wound. The debate still occasionally rages within the province about the best way to heal the rift – and the sovereignty movement certainly derives some degree of support from a belief that healing should take the form of separation from Canada.
"I also criticized the unilateral repatriation of 1982, concluding that 'even in their moments of greatest mistrust, the Québécois never imagined that the pact of 1867 could ever be changed without their consent. Hence the impression they had in 1982 of a breach of trust, of a violation of the national bond's integrity. The descendants of George-Étienne Cartier did not expect this from the descendants of John A. Macdonald. Perceived as trickery in Quebec, the repatriation of 1982 has placed a time bomb in the political dynamics of this country' ". (p. 224, On the Record, Lucien Bouchard, former leader of the sovereignist federal political party, the Bloc Québécois.)
The failure of the Meech Lake Accord—an abortive attempt to redress the constitutional problems brought on by the adoption of the 1982 amendment without the Quebec government's approval—strengthened the conviction of most sovereigntist politicians and led many federalist ones to place little hope in the prospect of a federal constitutional reform that would satisfy Quebec's purported historical demands (according to proponents of the sovereignty movement). These include a constitutional recognition that Quebecers constitute a distinct society, as well as a larger degree of independence of the province towards federal policy.
"In Montreal, June 25, I walked along rue Sherbrooke to Olympic Stadium, submerged in the immense river of white and blue that seemed unstoppable on its march to sovereignty. Three days earlier, Bourassa, former minister of federalism, had hurriedly changed his tune: 'English Canada must understand that . . . Quebec is, today and forever, a distinct society, free and able to assume its destiny and its development.'" (p. 251, 'On the Record', Lucien Bouchard)
The contemporary sovereignty movement is thought to have originated from the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s, although the desire for an independent or autonomous French-Canadian state has periodically arisen throughout Quebec's history, notably during the 1837 Lower Canada Rebellion. Part of Quebec's continued historical desire for sovereignty is caused by Quebecers' perception of a singular English-speaking voice and identity that is dominant within the parameters of Canadian identity, with no incorporation of the Francophone identity. (This is a point contested in other parts of Canada – particularly in places like Manitoba which has a significant French-speaking population, and where in the 1990s that population tried to assert francophone language rights in schools. The separatist Parti Québécois-led government of Quebec offered up comment actually taking the side of the Manitoba government, which was opposing granting those rights. Speculation persists that the Quebec government opposed this assertion of francophone identity outside of the province because of the impact it would have on the assertion of anglophone language rights within its own borders.)
For a majority of Quebec politicians, whether sovereignist or not, the problem of Quebec's political status is considered unresolved to this day. Although Quebec independence is a political question, cultural concerns are also at the root of the desire for independence. The central cultural argument of the sovereigntists is that only sovereignty can adequately ensure the survival of the French language in North America, allowing Quebecers to establish their nationality, preserve their cultural identity, and keep their collective memory alive (see Language demographics of Quebec).
Quebec feels a lack of recognition has been given to them both domestically and on the international scene. In addition, the large Francophone population within New Brunswick and other areas of Canada often feel their culture is diminishing within Canada. The diminishing use of French outside Quebec is attributed to inadequate public infrastructures such as schools and "social integration" within a dominant English-speaking society.
"At the same time, a brutal gesture by the Saskatchewan legislature brought the first language crises to my doorstep. The legislature precipitously abrogated the only law guaranteeing linguistic rights to the French population. It was revenge for a recent Supreme Court decision that had confirmed the constraining power of the law requiring all provincial laws to be available in French. To avoid having to translate all their laws, Grant Devine's government moved to repeal the act. The French community reacted with indignation and asked for federal intervention". (p. 186, On the Record, Lucien Bouchard)
The threat to the French language outside of Quebec is a small contribution to the feelings of Quebec sovereigntists and separatists to form a fully independent Quebec nation free of any bonds to an English-speaking dominated federal government. Not every Quebec nationalist sees confederation as posing a threat to the status of the French language however, especially when the shrinking percentage of English-speaking Quebecers and the province's strict language laws are taken into account.
Throughout the 1990s, in a series of letters then-federal Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion laid out an intellectual argument against sovereignty.
It has also been argued by prominent Quebecers (sovereigntists and ex-sovereigntists, including former Quebec premier Lucien Bouchard) that sovereignty politics has distracted Quebecers from the real economic problems of Quebec, and that sovereignty by itself cannot solve those problems. In 2005 they published their position statement, "Pour un Québec lucide," ("For a clear vision of Quebec") which details the problems facing Quebec.
Many federalists oppose the Quebec Sovereignty movement for economic and political reasons, however many also oppose sovereignty on other grounds. For example, since the 1995 referendum, in regards to the declaration of Jacques Parizeau who blamed the loss on the money and ethnic votes, many federalists considered the sovereignty movement as an expression of ethnic nationalism. Support for separation has routinely been the weakest amongst non-Francophones (in particular, Anglophones, First Nations, allophones and immigrants). Those who support multiculturalism as opposed to Quebec nationalism are more likely to support federalism. However, the Sovereignty movement is by no means exclusively ethnic French in terms of membership, and the PQ in particular has attempted to embrace the multicultural reality of Montreal and increasingly other cities in Quebec.
See main article: Mouvement Souveraineté-Association. The history of the relations between French and English descendants in Canada is one filled with a lot of rocky moments. After "discovering" Canada and establishing some outposts and cities, the French lost it to Great Britain in 1759. The conquered French lost almost all their political and economical powers to the English. From that point on, at different moments in Canada's and Quebec's history, some leaders and groups have risen to reclaim what was lost. The use of the word "sovereignty" and many of the ideas of this movement originated in the 1967 Mouvement Souveraineté-Association of René Lévesque. This movement ultimately gave birth to the Parti Québécois in 1968.
Sovereignty-association (French: Souveraineté-Association) is the combination of two concepts:
It was first presented in Lévesque's political manifesto, Option Québec.
The Parti Québécois defines sovereignty as the power for a state to levy all its taxes, vote on all its laws, and sign all its treaties (as mentioned in the 1980 referendum question).
The type of association between an independent Quebec and the rest of Canada was described as a monetary and customs union as well as joint political institutions to administer the relations between the two countries. The main inspiration for this project was the then-emerging European Community. This belief continues to this day such a relationship can work, despite the fact that the European union while highly successful in some respects, has in other respects proven to detract many stronger nations and create some financial and political tension throughout Europe.
The hyphen between the words "sovereignty" and "association" was often stressed by Lévesque and other PQ members, to make it clear that both were inseparable. The reason stated was that if Canada decided to boycott Quebec exports after voting for independence, the new country would have to go through difficult economic times, as the barriers to trade between Canada and the United States were then very high. Quebec would have been a nation of 7 million people stuck between two impenetrable protectionist countries. In the event of having to compete against Quebec, rather than support it, Canada could easily maintain its well-established links with the United States to prosper in foreign trade.
Sovereignty-association as originally proposed would have meant that Quebec would become a politically independent state, but would maintain a formal association with Canada — especially regarding economic affairs. It was part of the 1976 sovereignist platform which swept the Parti Québécois into power in that year's provincial elections – and included a promise to hold a referendum on sovereignty-association. René Lévesque developed the idea of sovereignty-association to reduce the fear that an independent Quebec would face tough economic times. In fact, this proposal did result in an increase in support for a sovereign Quebec: polls at the time showed that people were more likely to support independence if Quebec maintained an economic partnership with Canada. This line of politics led the out-spoken Yvon DesChamps to proclaim that what Quebecers want is an independent Quebec inside a strong Canada, thereby comparing the sovereignist movement to a spoiled child that has everything it could desire and still wants more.
In 1979 the PQ began an aggressive effort to promote sovereignty-association by providing details of how the economic relations with the rest of Canada would include free trade between Canada and Quebec, common tariffs against imports, and a common currency. In addition, joint political institutions would be established to administer these economic arrangements. But the sovereignist cause was hurt as many politicians (most notably the premiers of several of the other provinces) publicly refused to negotiate an economic association with an independent Quebec, contributing to the Yes side losing by a vote of 60 percent to 40 percent.
This loss laid the groundwork for the 1995 referendum, which stated that Quebec should offer a new economic and political partnership to Canada before declaring independence. An English translation of part of the Sovereignty Bill reads, "We, the people of Quebec, declare it our own will to be in full possession of all the powers of a state; to levy all our taxes, to vote on all our laws, to sign all our treaties and to exercise the highest power of all, conceiving, and controlling, by ourselves, our fundamental law."
This time, the sovereignists lost in a very close vote: 50.6 percent to 49.4 percent, or only 53,498 votes out of more than 4,700,000 votes cast. However, after the vote many within the sovereignist camp were very upset that the vote broke down heavily along language lines. Approximately 90 percent of English speakers and allophones (mostly immigrants and first-generations Quebecers whose native language is neither French or English) Quebecers voted against the referendum, while almost 60 percent of Francophones voted Yes, and 82 percent of Quebecers are French-speaking. Quebec premier Jacques Parizeau, whose government supported sovereignty, attributed the defeat of the resolution to money and the ethnic vote. His opinion caused an outcry among English speaking Quebecers since it exposed the ethnocentric perspective of the leader, who focused blame for the defeat on minority communities as if to discount the influence of 40% of Francophones who voted no.
An inquiry by Le directeur général des élections concluded in 2007 that at least $500,000 was spent by the federalist camp in violation of Quebec's election laws. This law imposes a limit on campaign spending by both option camps. Parizeau's statement was also an admission of failure by the Yes camp in getting the newly arrived Quebecers to adhere to their political option.
While opponents of sovereignty were pleased with the defeat of the referendum, most recognized that there were still deep divides within Quebec and problems with the relationship between Quebec and the rest of the country.
After the signing of the free trade agreement between Canada and the United States, supporters of sovereignty-association revisited their options, and the need for an association with the rest of Canada was made optional. That is, an association with Canada is still wished for, but were it to fail, sovereignty would be economically viable because of the belief that Quebec could freely export to the U.S. market due to Canada's membership in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Some observers believe that Quebec's participation in NAFTA would be contingent upon the unanimous approval of the three original signatories. Currently, PQ members and outside supporters will often speak of 'sovereignty' alone, insisting on the idea that a sovereign Quebec would be legally capable of entering into international agreements it would deem suitable. In realistic terms, Quebec would be forced to enter the NAFTA agreement to ensure its sovereign survival.
Those in favour of independence vacillate between terming it "sovereignty" and "independence," but the two terms are considered to be synonymous. A small group of people prefer "independence" over the other term. The use of the term "sovereignty-association" is much less frequent, but is still heard (refer to the Modernization section below). Federalists almost always refer to sovereigntists as "séparatistes" a more negative, contemptuous term.
See main article: History of the Quebec independence movement.
See also: Quebec nationalism. Sovereigntism and sovereignty are terms that refer to the modern movement in favour of the political independence of Quebec. However, the roots of Quebec's desire for self-determination can be traced back as far as the Patriotes Rebellion, the Alliance Laurentienne of 1957, the writings of Lionel Groulx in the 1920s, the Francoeur Motion of 1917, and Honoré Mercier's flirtation with this idea (especially in his historic speech of 1893.)
The Quiet Revolution in Quebec brought widespread change in the 1960s. Among other changes, support for Quebec independence began to form and grow in some circles. The first organization dedicated to the independence of Quebec was the Alliance Laurentienne, founded by Raymond Barbeau on January 25, 1957.
On September 10, 1960 the Rassemblement pour l'indépendance nationale (RIN) was founded, with Pierre Bourgault quickly becoming its leader. On August 9 of the same year, the Action socialiste pour l'indépendance du Québec (ASIQ) was formed by Raoul Roy. The "independence + socialism" project of the ASIQ was a source of political ideas for the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ).
On October 31, 1962, the Comité de libération nationale and, in November of the same year, the Réseau de résistance were set up. These two groups were formed by RIN members to organize non-violent but illegal actions, such as vandalism and civil disobedience. The most extremist individuals of these groups left to form the FLQ, which, unlike all the other groups, had made the decision to resort to violence in order to reach its goal of independence for Quebec. Shortly after the November 14, 1962, Quebec general election, RIN member Marcel Chaput founded the short-lived Parti républicain du Québec.
In February 1963, the FLQ was founded by three Rassemblement pour l'indépendance nationale members who had met each other as part of the Réseau de résistance. They were Georges Schoeters, Raymond Villeneuve, and Gabriel Hudon.
In 1964, the RIN became a provincial political party. In 1965, the more conservative Ralliement national (RN) also became a party.
The historical context of the time was a period when many former European colonies, such as Cameroon, Congo, Senegal, Algeria, and Jamaica, were becoming independent. Some advocates of Quebec independence saw Quebec's situation in a similar light; numerous activists were influenced by the writings of Frantz Fanon, Albert Memmi, and Karl Marx.
In June 1967, French president Charles de Gaulle, who had granted independence to Algeria, shouted Vive le Québec libre! during a speech from the balcony of Montreal's city hall during a state visit to Canada. In doing so, he deeply offended the federal government, and English Canadians felt he had demonstrated contempt for the sacrifice of Canadian soldiers who died on the battlefields of France in two world wars. The visit was cut short and De Gaulle left the country. Many Canadians also saw his comments as being hypocritical given the historic and present intolerant policies towards minority languages and cultures (such as the Breton language, Basque language, Corsican language) and the German Language in Alsace-Lorraine by French governments, in contrast to Canada's policy of bilingualism.
Finally, in October 1967, former Liberal cabinet minister René Lévesque left that party when it refused to discuss sovereignty at a party convention. Lévesque formed the Mouvement souveraineté-association and set about uniting pro-sovereignty forces.
He achieved that goal in October 1968 when the MSA held its first (and last) national congress in Quebec City. The RN and MSA agreed to merge to form the Parti Québécois (PQ), and later that month Pierre Bourgault, leader of the RIN, dissolved his party and invited its members to join the PQ.
In the 1973 election, the PQ won six seats, a net loss of one. However, its share of the popular vote had significantly increased.
On August 26, 1977, the PQ passed two main laws: first, the law on the financing of political parties, which prohibits contributions by corporations and unions and set a limit on individual donations, and second, the Charter of the French Language.
At its seventh national convention from June 1 to 3, 1979, the sovereigntists adopted their strategy for the coming referendum. The PQ then began an aggressive effort to promote sovereignty-association by providing details of how the economic relations with the rest of Canada would include free trade between Canada and Quebec, common tariffs against imports, and a common currency. In addition, joint political institutions would be established to administer these economic arrangements.
Sovereignty-association was proposed to the population of Quebec in the 1980 Quebec referendum. The proposal was rejected by 60 per cent of the Quebec electorate.
In September, the PQ created a national committee of Anglophones and a liaison committee with ethnic minorities.
The PQ was returned to power in the 1981 election with a stronger majority than in 1976, obtaining 49.2 per cent of the vote and winning 80 seats. However, they did not hold a referendum in their second term, and put sovereignty on hold, concentrating on their stated goal of "good government".
The economic "association" part of the Sovereignty-Association concept was in some ways a forerunner of the later Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement of 1987 and the North American Free Trade Agreement.
See main article: Quebec referendum, 1995. The PQ returned to power in the 1994 election under Jacques Parizeau, this time with 44.75% of the popular vote. In the intervening years, the failures of the Meech Lake Accord and Charlottetown Accord had revived support for sovereignty, which had been written off as a dead issue for much of the 1980s.
Another consequence of the failure of the Meech Lake Accord was the formation of the Bloc Québécois (BQ), a sovereigntist federal political party, under the leadership of the charismatic former Progressive Conservative federal cabinet minister Lucien Bouchard. Several PC and Liberal members of the federal parliament left their parties to form the BQ. For the first time, the PQ supported pro-sovereigntist forces running in federal elections; during his lifetime Lévesque had always opposed such a move.
The Union Populaire had nominated candidates in the 1979 and 1980 federal elections, and the Parti nationaliste du Québec had nominated candidates in the 1984 election, but neither of these parties enjoyed the official support of the PQ; nor did they enjoy significant public support among Quebecers.
In the 1993 federal election, which featured the collapse of Progressive Conservative Party support, the BQ won enough seats in Parliament to become Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition in the House of Commons.
At the Royal Commission on the Future of Quebec (also known as the Outaouais Commission) in 1995, the Communist Party of Canada made a presentation in which the party leader, Miguel Figueroa, recommended to the committee that Quebec declare itself as an independent republic.
Parizeau promptly advised the Lieutenant Governor to call a new referendum. The 1995 referendum question differed from the 1980 question in that the negotiation of an association with Canada was now optional.
The "No" camp again won, but only by a very small margin — 50.6% to 49.4%. As in the previous referendum, the English-speaking (anglophone) minority in Quebec overwhelmingly (about 90%) rejected sovereignty, support for sovereignty was also weak among allophones in immigrant communities and first-generation descendants. The lowest support for Yes side came from First Nations and Inuit voters in Quebec, First Nations chiefs asserted their right to self determination with the Cree being particularly vocal in their right to stay territories within Canada. More than 96% of the Inuit and Cree voted No in the referendum.
By contrast almost 60 per cent of francophones of all origins voted "Yes". (82 per cent of Quebecers are Francophone.) Later inquiries into irregularities determined that abuses had occurred on both sides: some "No" ballots had been rejected without valid reasons, and the 27 October "No" rally had evaded spending limitations because of out-of-province participation. An inquiry by "Le Directeur général des élections" concluded in 2007 that the "No" camp had exceeded the campaign spending limits by $500,000.On referendum night, Premier Jacques Parizeau attributed the defeat of the resolution to "money and [some of the] ethnic votes". Most sovereigntists politicians condemned the declaration, which eventually lead to Parizeau's resignation from his position as chief of the PQ, announced on October 31, the day following the referendum.
The Parti Québécois won re-election in the 1998 election despite losing the popular vote to Jean Charest and the Quebec Liberals. In the number of seats won by both sides, the election was almost a clone of the previous 1994 election. However, public support for sovereignty remained too low for the PQ to consider holding a second referendum during their second term. Meanwhile, the federal government passed the Clarity Act to govern the wording of any future referendum questions and the conditions under which a vote for sovereignty would be recognized as legitimate. Federal liberal politicians stated that the ambiguous wording of the 1995 referendum question was the primary impetus in the bill's drafting.
While opponents of sovereignty were pleased with their referendum victories, most recognized that there are still deep divides within Quebec and problems with the relationship between Quebec and the rest of Canada.
In 1999, the Parliament of Canada, inspired by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, passed the Clarity Act, a law that, amongst other things, set out the conditions under which the federal government would recognize a vote by any province to leave Canada. Controversially, the act gave the House of Commons the power to decide whether a proposed referendum question was considered clear, and allowed it to decide whether a clear majority has expressed itself in any referendum. It is widely considered by sovereigntists as an illegitimate piece of legislation. Indeed, a contradictory Act respecting the exercise of the fundamental rights and prerogatives of the Québec people and the Québec State (Bill 99) was introduced in the National Assembly of Quebec only two days after the Clarity Act had been introduced in the House of Commons. This was purely a symbolic gesture, as, unlike the Clarity Act, it had no effect on the law.
Former Prime Minister Chrétien, under whom the Clarity Act was passed, considered the legislation among his most significant accomplishments.
"Sovereignty-Association" is nowadays more often referred to simply as "sovereignty". However, in the 1995 Quebec referendum, in which the sovereignty option was narrowly rejected, the notion of some form of economic association with the rest of Canada was still envisaged (continuing use of the Canadian dollar and military, for example) and was referred to as "Sovereignty-Partnership" (in French Souveraineté-Partenariat). It remains a part of the PQ program and is tied to national independence in the minds of most Quebecers. This part of the PQ program has always been controversial, especially since Canadian federal politicians usually refuse the concept.
In 2003, the PQ launched the Saison des idées ("Season of ideas") which is a public consultation aiming to gather the opinions of Quebecers on its sovereignty project. The new program and the revised sovereignty project was adopted at the 2005 Congress.
In the 2003 election, the PQ lost power to the Liberal Party. However, in early 2004, the Liberal government of Jean Chrétien had proved to be unpopular, and that, combined with the federal Liberal Party sponsorship scandal, contributed to a resurgence of the BQ. In the 2004 federal elections, the Bloc Québécois won 54 of Quebec's 75 seats in the House of Commons, compared to 33 previously. However, in the 2006 federal elections the BQ lost 3 seats and in the 2008 federal elections lost an additional seat, bringing their total down to 50, but is still the most popular party in Quebec.
On February 17, 2008, Kosovo, a province of Serbia, declared its independence. Serbian Minister of Foreign Affairs Vuk Jeremić warned that the declaration of independence could set a precedent elsewhere. Canada argued that Kosovo was a special case unlike that of Quebec. Quebec separatists, both the PQ and BQ, argued that Quebec has the same right to independence as Kosovo. Canada "tiptoed around Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia" for a month before deciding to recognize Kosovo as an independent state.
Canada finally recognized Kosovo on March 18, while claiming that this decision had "no bearing" on independence or sovereignty for Quebec.
The separatist movement draws above the left and right spectrum, a sizeable minority of more conservative Quebecers supporting the PQ's political agenda because of the sovereignty issue, despite reservations about its social democratic political agenda.
Right and Left must be interpreted within the provincial context; Liberal Party politics generally coincide with those of other liberal parties, while PQ politics are more social democratic in orientation. There is no mass conservative movement in Quebec's political culture on the provincial level, due notably to strong government interventionism and Keynesianism shared by all parties since the 1960s (the so-called "Quebec Consensus" since the Quiet Revolution), and the province's Catholic heritage.
There are, of course, quite a few exceptions. Notable examples include:
Sovereignty has little support among Quebec Anglophones, immigrant communities, and aboriginal First Nations. About 60% of Francophones voted "Yes" in 1995, and with the exception of weak "Yes" support from the Arab community, most non-Francophones massively voted "No" (see Demolinguistics of Quebec). The opponents of the sovereignty movement view the project as ethnically exclusive based on its rejection by non-Francophones. This is a position sometimes disputed by the PQ, which attempts to present its project as all-embracing and essentially civic in nature.
See main article: Partition of Quebec. There is an undercurrent of feeling amongst "ethnic" and "anglo" voters that sometimes surfaces as a desire to separate from Quebec. This would create a new province of Canada, from the southwestern and southern portions of the province (comprising half of Montreal, parts of the Outaouais, the Eastern Townships).
This feeling is exemplified by the statement - "If Canada can be partitioned, then so can Quebec" or "If Quebec can separate from Canada, then we can separate from Quebec". Most mainstream political parties in Quebec deny that Quebec can be divided up.
There is a feeling amongst the Cree of Northern Quebec, that should the province separate, they would remain part of Canada, and would force the province to return to its pre-1912 boundaries, and re-establish the Ungava district of the Northwest Territories, or a new territory or province created in its place. However, since "la paix des braves" treaty, the Cree have agreed to let go of any territorial claims that they had in the past.
Most mainstream political parties in Quebec deny that Quebec can be divided up.
The other nine provinces of Canada have generally been opposed to Quebec sovereignty. Alberta has seen parties promoting secession, mainly during the controversy of the National Energy Program, such as the Separation Party of Alberta, but these have been marginal. In 1982, Gordon Kesler was elected to the Alberta legislature under the banner of the Western Canada Concept Party, while in British Columbia no separatist party has ever had representatives elected to the provincial legislature.
The Charter of the French Language and other legislative acts approved by the National Assembly have reinforced the position of French as the primary language in Quebec. Since the enactment of the charter in 1977 French has been the only official language of Quebec. A broad range of services in English are maintained for the English-speaking community, including education and health care.
Reaction in the other nine provinces to the assertion of French-language rights and the strengthening nationalism amongst Francophones in Quebec has been mixed. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, the federal parliament enacted the Official Languages Act, making both French and English official languages throughout Canada, resulting in real efforts to improve accessibility to French services from the federal government. New Brunswick, with a large French-speaking minority, has become officially bilingual. Governments of other provinces, such as Ontario, which has a sizeable Francophone population, have increased the level of government services available to Francophone residents. French language education is now being made available to Francophones in many communities in Canada, and many English-Canadians are taking advantage of French immersion programs to encourage their children to acquire a basic working ability to communicate in French.
In general, francophones outside Quebec oppose sovereignty, while non-francophones, particularly the anglophone minority in Montreal, also have remained opposed. After polling heavily on the subject, Leger president Mark Leger concluded: “These numbers surprise me, they’re so clear across the country... You look at Francophones outside Quebec, it’s the same result... Overall, outside the French in Quebec, all the other groups across the country are against this notion.” The exact question of the November 2006 poll was, "Currently, there is a political debate on recognizing Quebec as a nation. Do you personally consider that Quebecers form a nation or not?" Canadians from every region outside Quebec, non-Francophone Quebecers (62 per cent), Francophone Canadians outside Quebec (77 per cent) all resoundingly rejected the idea. 
In France, although openness and support is found on both sides of the political spectrum, the French political right has traditionally been warmer to sovereigntists (like President Charles de Gaulle, who shouted his support of independence in Montreal in 1967) than the French left (like President François Mitterrand, who was distrustful of nationalism and notoriously snubbed Lévesque at their first meeting in the 1970s). This "dividing line" is fading, since support towards Quebec sovereignty depends nowadays more on individual positions than on party line as it is in Quebec.
This used to be a paradoxical phenomenon because of the Parti Québécois and most sovereigntists being to the political left. Michel Rocard (who became Prime Minister of the French Republic) has been one of the French Socialists that broke that so-called rule the most, maintaining a close and warm relationship with Quebec sovereigntists. More recently, Ségolène Royal, leader of the French Socialist party, came out for "Quebec sovereignty" but it was seemingly a reflexive answer to an "out of the blue" question from a Quebec journalist in Paris. On a later visit to Quebec City she gave a more nuanced position, mentioning a Parliamentary motion recognizing the Québécois as a "nation", but also describing 400 years of "oppression" and resistance of francophones in Canada.
French politicians and the population at large are usually sympathetic to Quebec for cultural, linguistic and historical reasons. There is a cultural attraction in France towards Quebec, similar to, for example, the cultural attraction existing in Britain towards Canada, the United States or Australia. Since support for sovereignty is around 50% in Quebec (normally within 5%), France is very careful to be neutral on that sensitive question.
The French Foreign Office motto concerning Quebec "national question" is "non-ingérence et non-indifférence" ("no interference and no indifference"), which epitomizes the official position of the French State. In other words, as long as the Quebec people vote to stay within Canada, France will officially support the Canadian Federation the way it is. That is why bilateral relations between both governments (Canada and France) have been so strong for many years. Similarly, Canada supports and even encourages the special institutional ties that exist between Quebec and France (annual meetings of both Heads of governments in either country; very dense university and research co-operation; administrative agreements; etc).
Quebec federalist nationalists think that the Quebec people should be recognized as a de facto nation by the federal government of Canada (recognition has been recently granted by the House of Commons) and initiate the constitutional reforms that presuppose such a recognition. Their position is often so close to that of some moderate Quebec sovereigntists that many have jumped the fence both ways (former Premier of Quebec Lucien Bouchard and Quebec lawyer Guy Bertrand are well-known examples of this). A great proportion of Quebec sovereigntist politicians were formerly in the reformist camp of the greater liberal family before joining the MSA or later the PQ. Proponents of a strong centralized federal government oppose this due to their vision of a multicultural Canada. A common argument is that if Canada is divisible by language and ethnicity, then so is Quebec with substantial Anglophone, First Nations and immigrant minorities. Indeed, when polled directly, a strong majority of non-Francophone denizens of Quebec rejects the idea that they form part of any Quebec nation.
Prime Minister Joseph Roussel suffers a cabinet revolt when the question of the British is put to cabinet; he and several Quebec ministers vote against the British migration, but the resolution passes and the Quebec ministers resign en masse. Roussel's resignation is demanded by an English-Canadian minister, but another Anglophone, with designs on Roussel's job and a sense of good timing, defends Roussel; the vote in Parliament will inevitably parallel the one in cabinet, the government will fall, an election will take place, and Roussel will be out of office.
Roussel meets with Belisle about his threat to unilaterally separate and convinces him to hold a referendum in 60 days, early January. Roussel then convinces Stuart, the Conservative leader, to delay bringing the issue before Parliament, so that an election and a referendum campaign don't take place at the same time. Meanwhile, two negotiating teams meet to determine the terms of separation, with the fiery members of each team clashing.
The terrorist is given her weapon for an assassination, but doesn't know her target yet. Meanwhile, the American president meets with Roussel and offers military aid which Roussel turns down. In addition, the British government falls and its prime minister (Barry Morse) has a brief meeting with Roussel. Roussel is also searching for a safe seat outside Quebec in which to seek re-election, and his efforts are known to his Liberal rivals.
The terms of separation are finally reached in extraordinary time, but the accord is not signed pending the outcome of the referendum. The terrorist is told to assassinate the king of Saudi Arabia; on the king's death, his successor lifts the embargo on Britain. Canada's crisis is resolved, and the referendum is defeated, 67 to 33 percent.