Is Quebec Heading for Independence?

Separatist premier calls sudden elections; if she is voted in province's fate likely to be determined in referendum.

Dalit Halevi, Ari Yashar ,

Quebec Premier Pauline Marois
Quebec Premier Pauline Marois

Pauline Marois, the pro-separatist Premier of Quebec, announced on Wednesday that new elections will be held in the Canadian province on April 7. The election is anticipated to have fateful results for the province that has long been split over desires to secede from Canada.

Marois, head of the Parti Québécois which calls for independence from Canada, cited the Opposition's refusal to accept her budget proposal as signifying a lack of confidence in the government and necessitating the elections, reports Shalom Toronto.

Among French-speaking Quebec residents, Marois has a 22% advantage over her opponents, which she hopes to translate into a parliamentary majority allowing her to carry out a national referendum on independence from Canada. In 2012, Marois was only 9 seats short of holding such a referendum.

Philippe Couillard, leader of the Liberal party and a rival of Marois, said that if she won such a referendum would undoubtedly be held.

However, in a press conference to kick off her election campaign, Marois was notably silent on the independence issue, instead focusing on her party's call for institutionalized secuarlism.

The separatist premier has already submitted a controversial bill that would ban wearing religious symbols, such as a kippah or hijab, by government employees or employees of government funded institutions, a move reminiscent of similar French laws.

The rival Liberal party emphasized its neutrality on the issue of religion, focusing on financial issues such as improving the job market and reducing taxes. Meanwhile the third-largest party, the Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ), similarly highlighted economic and educational issues, avoiding independence or religion.

Is the public for or against?

A survey conducted by Ledger Marketing for the news agency QMI found that if elections were held today, Marois's party would receive 37% of the vote, closely followed by the Liberal party at 35%, with CAQ coming in at 15%.

On the issue of independence from Canada, 34% of Quebec residents were in favor, while 49% opposed the idea.

The issue of Quebecois independence has come to the fore many times in the past. In 1976 the Quebec party won the elections, and proceeded to pass Bill 101, known as the "French Language Order," which mandated that French be the official language spoken in public places.

In 1980, the premier of Quebec called for a vote on independence from Canada. The call was defeated as 60% of voters opposed the move. A second referendum was held in 1995, in which independence was again turned down, but this time by the weak majority of 50.6%.

Meanwhile the Canadian Parliament in 2006 passed a law declaring Quebec to be a "nation within united Canada."