Grumbling Quebecois `will say non'

September 22, 1995

"Le oui va gagner" say the stickers beginning to proliferate on Montreal lamp-posts as the province of Quebec contemplates yet another sovereignty referendum this autumn.

Jean-Claude Robert rather doubts it. And the opinion of the professor of history at the University of Quebec at Montreal reflects that of most Quebecois commentators, who expect provincial premier and Parti Quebecois leader Jacques Parizeau to be frustrated in the same way his predecessor, Rene Levesque, was when the last referendum was held in 1980.

Professor Robert says: "I expect 'yes' will lose. While the polls suggest a close result, the separatist vote has generally been a little lower in elections and at the 1980 referendum than the polls predicted.

"This is because while people may grumble about the deal Quebec gets from Canada and talk about voting for separatism, that is some way from actually voting to leave."

He argues that Quebec has been divided into two camps since the 1980 referendum: "There are some people who believe that the experiment of Canada has worked well for Quebec. It does not mean that they are happy with everything - many of them will also vote for the Parti Quebecois in provincial elections. And the others argue that Canada does not work and Quebec should leave. That division has been the same for 15 years, and I doubt that anything is likely to change while it remains."

Support for the separatist Parti Quebecois is strongest in the eastern part of the province: "This is the part which has least contact with the rest of North America."

Montreal, by contrast, has received most of the province's recent immigration although some working-class districts are heavily Parti Quebecois: "This may be because if you take out Quebec nationalism there is very little to differentiate them from the (social democrat) NDP," says Professor Robert.

Professor Robert expects a much lower-key campaign than in 1980: "That was terribly divisive, splitting friends and families. There will be some media hoopla, but those memories should restrain the campaign this time."

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