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The politics of Canada without Quebec: A situation that could go from bad to worse

With a Quebec election in April, polls indicate there is a chance for the to form a majority government. This makes it possible for Quebecer to have another referendum on Quebec’s sovereignty. There are perhaps fewer emotionally charged issues than Canadian unity.

While predictions are difficult in hypothetical situations, there are some indicators that can tell us what would be the consequences of Quebec becoming an independent country.

Needless to say, the future would be uncertain.

After Quebec votes to separate, there would be a series of discussions between the Quebec and Federal government over debt, trade relations and monetary policy. While it would be in both parties interest to have an amicable discussion, there are numerous issues that could lead to conflict.

According to a study by the Fraser institute, the Quebec government has the most debt-to-GDP of any province at 49 per cent or $175.5 billion. If Quebec separated, it would have to take a share of the federal debt, as well, probably around 23 per cent given Quebec’s share of the population. However, this figure is by no means agreed upon. The Quebec government, having very little to lose, could simply repudiate its share of the debt, or use its position to demand a seat on the Bank of Canada if it keeps the Canadian dollar.

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At the same time, the aboriginal people of Quebec, namely the James Bay Cree, would reject any unilateral declaration of independence by Quebec’s government, and seek to remain in Canada using the courts. This, of course, would further complicate the situation, and could lead to further partitions of the province.

As all this is taking place, international markets will react to this uncertainty by divesting from Canada and Quebec. It’s entirely feasible for the Canadian dollar to collapse and interest rates climb to attract investment, so all areas of Canada will likely enter a protracted recession if Quebec elects to separate.

This hypothetical situation is based on the assumption Canada, Quebec and the aboriginal peoples do not resort to violence. While I would hope everyone would agree to abide by the rule of law, during any break-up, whether interpersonal or within a country, emotions run high. It’s far from inconceivable for conflict to occur if discussions break down.

Nationalists in Quebec did resort to violence during the October Crisis of 1970, and as a response the Federal government instituted the now defunct War Measures Act to declare martial law. Also, many aboriginal groups would refuse to accept Quebec’s sovereignty if it declared independence, yet another potential issue for violence to erupt.

The worst possible scenario is with tempers running high, a small conflict could escalate quickly, leading to a larger scale military intervention.

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However, even if a PQ government is elected, it may decide to put off a referendum and focus on internal economic issues. Moreover, recent polls in Quebec indicate that only 33 per cent of Quebecers are in favour of separation. Hopefully, more sensible policies are followed, and this scenario will just be an unpleasant hypothetical.