Newspaper article The Canadian Press

In Quebec, Canada Day Celebrations Shine Light on Debate over National Unity

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

In Quebec, Canada Day Celebrations Shine Light on Debate over National Unity

Article excerpt

Canada Day highlights national unity issue


MONTREAL - As residents gathered at barbecues, parks and parades across the country to celebrate Canada Day, many in Quebec chose to focus on other things, from moving apartments to relaxing in the sun.

The national holiday has never attracted the same level of flag-waving patriotism in Quebec as seen in other parts of the country. Many in the province consider themselves Quebecers first, and Canadians second.

The province's St. Jean Baptiste Day festivities, held seven days earlier, bring together far more people.

"I celebrate both, but St. Jean is more important," 65-year-old Montreal resident Monique Bourget said while walking her dog in a park.

This year though, Canada Day in Quebec appeared to highlight a larger issue.

The long-dormant debate over national unity has come a little closer to the surface over recent months, with speculation the separatist Parti Quebecois could form the next provincial government.

The struggling Quebec Liberals could call an early fall election and the PQ, led by Pauline Marois, has a chance at leading Quebec after nearly a decade under Premier Jean Charest.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper seems well aware of the possible change in the province's political landscape. Earlier this month he met with former prime minister Brian Mulroney and Charest for advice on the national unity issue.

The Conservatives have little clout in the province, having won just five of Quebec's 75 federal seats in the last election. That puts them in a weak position to lead any renewed unity debate.

It appears the rest of Canada may not be up for another national unity test either.

A poll released last week suggested many in the rest of Canada aren't too worried about Quebec, with about half saying they don't care if the province splits from the rest of Canada.

Meanwhile in Quebec itself, sovereignty -- which has historically been a hot topic -- doesn't seem to be ranking as high with many voters today. Another recent poll suggested only four per cent saw it as the key election issue, well behind corruption and the conflict over tuition fee increases in the province.

But Quebec's determination to maintain a cultural identity distinct from the rest of Canada seems to persist.

"We are Quebecois, that's what makes us unique in North America," said Robert Dufour, a 61-year-old Montreal resident and longtime sovereigntist.

"People compare us to Ontario, and say maybe we should be this way or that way, but we're not Ontario. …

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