What does Québec’s new government mean for Canada?
Since his election in 2018, Premier François Legault has been sitting on the fence when it comes to Québec’s relationship with Canada. While he has frequently said that Québec’s place is within a united Canada, he has also continued to promote Québec nationalism, toy with linguistic rights, and has shown little effort to engage with premiers of other provinces. With dissatisfaction rising in Alberta, Ontario remaining the economic engine that it is, and other provinces increasing immigration to alleviate labour shortages, where is Québec’s relationship with the rest of Canada heading?
Québec might be drifting away
During Québec’s recent general election campaign, Boudeweel Public Affairs teamed up with Abacus Data to ask Quebecers and Canadians outside the province about their perceptions of Québec, its politics and relationship with the rest of the country. While most Canadians inside and outside Québec seem to think that the threat of separation has mostly vanished, the survey results revealed some uneasiness with the direction that the province is headed on a few key issues, and a perception that it’s drifting away from the rest of the country.
From our experience speaking with Canadians inside and outside Québec, they seem to have the impression that the province has figured out a way to operate fairly independently from Canada without leaving it; and they mostly seem concerned this could be less than optimal for national unity. With other provinces becoming more assertive towards the federal government, this could become a strong test for our political institutions, as they will have to be able to integrate more and more diverging viewpoints and trends.
New intergovernmental affairs minister could be a warning sign
On Oct. 20, Premier Legault appointed Jean-François Roberge as Minister of the French Language, as well as Minister Responsible for Canadian Relations and the Canadian Francophonie. With Roberge coming from the nationalistic wing of Legault’s party, this appointment might be intended as a signal of confrontation, rather than appeasement, to the federal government. While Legault pretty much manages the relationship with other provinces himself, he has sent a sign that Québec is prepared to wrestle with the federal government, and that the province is not afraid of becoming even more isolationist.
This trend could take Québec’s relationship with the rest of Canada down a difficult road, especially if harder economic times are ahead. Over the last 10 years, national unity was helped by having a federal government, both under the Conservatives and the Liberals, that increased transfer payments to the provinces, boosted direct funding to individual Canadians, and generally spent lavishly. It is hard to feel frustrated with political institutions when the money is flowing. However, this could very well slow down to a trickle over the next few months and years. Renewed competition for precious federal dollars could pit provinces against one another and would create a more difficult political landscape for Québec.
Changing demographics are adding more pressure
Another challenge for Québec lies in its shrinking workforce, low birth rate, and increasing interprovincial migration deficit leaving businesses struggling with massive labour shortages. While English Canada is welcoming a large number of immigrants to fill rising job vacancies, the situation is more complicated in Québec, where linguistic considerations are often given more weight than economic interests.
Québec will actually welcome nearly 70,000 newcomers in 2022 to make up for shortfalls during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite the province’s official annual immigration threshold being capped between 40,000 and 50,000 in recent years. But there are no guarantees that the newly re-elected CAQ government won’t enforce lower thresholds in future years — while other provinces go the opposite direction. This could end up increasing tensions between Québec and the rest of Canada, while also threatening Québec’s economic growth and ability to attract and retain top talent.