MONTREAL - A new poll suggests that while the Parti Quebecois government seeks to remove the Canadian flag from the provincial legislature, most people in Quebec view the Maple Leaf as a source of pride.
The survey suggests that the flag the PQ wants to remove is viewed as a source of "personal or collective pride" by two-thirds of Quebecers.
The online poll commissioned by the Association for Canadian Studies asked respondents whether they considered different national symbols very important, somewhat important, not very important, or not important at all as sources of personal or collective pride in Canada.
The survey said that when it came to the flag, 66 per cent of Quebec respondents answered yes — with 29 per cent calling it very important and 37 per cent calling it somewhat important. Twenty-two per cent said it was not very important, and only 10 per cent said it was not important at all.
The Leger Marketing survey of 2,207 respondents — 656 in Quebec — explored how much pride Canadians have in 16 different symbols, accomplishment and events.
The findings shine a light on public opinion in a province that has been sending mixed political messages lately: Quebec recently elected the pro-independence PQ — but only with a minority, and at a time when polls suggest support for independence is low, while the PQ's sister-party in Ottawa, the Bloc, was nearly wiped off the map barely a year earlier.
The newly elected PQ quickly took steps to expel the flag from the national assembly, as it had during its previous stint in power.
It faced more resistance this time.
The PQ, holding a minority for only the first time in its history, has been forced to call a vote on the flag issue. The vote on whether to officially remove the Maple Leaf from the legislature's upper chamber was scheduled to take place on Wednesday but was put off until Dec. 4.
The PQ proposal appears headed for defeat, with the two main opposition parties signalling their intention to vote against it.
Jack Jedwab, executive director of the Association for Canadian Studies, believes the three-month-old minority government is using the flag dispute as a way to appease the party's hardline sovereigntist base.
"Right now, in a minority-government situation, they're unable to make any meaningful progress with respect to the sovereignty option," Jedwab said of the PQ's decision to target the Maple Leaf.
"I don't think that they're going at an issue that's going to get them a lot of sympathy, other than from their base."
The Canadian flag has had an on-again, off-again presence in the Quebec legislature's committee chamber, also known as the Red Room. It is the only visible spot in the building where the emblem hangs.
Marois' government made a formal request to remove it earlier this month, on the 36th anniversary of the election of the first PQ government in 1976.
That year, then-PQ premier Rene Levesque was the first to put the Quebec flag in the legislative chamber, the Blue Room, where the daily debates are held and votes are cast. In 1983, he put the Fleur-de-lis in the Red Room, used for ceremonial events and committee hearings.
The Maple Leaf was eventually added to the Red Room by federalist Liberal premier Robert Bourassa when he returned to power in 1985. It was removed by successive PQ premiers before being brought back in 2003 after Jean Charest's Liberals took power.
Neither federalist premier, Bourassa or Charest, put the Maple Leaf in the legislative chamber, fearing a backlash from nationalists.
The flag was on the move again last month when the PQ took it out of the chamber for its swearing-in ceremony, although it later reappeared.
The flag decision at the PQ's swearing-in was criticized outside Quebec, where the poll's results suggest that love for the banner is nearly unanimous.
The results, collected from Canadians in every province the week of Nov. 5, were broken down for different regions of the country, including Quebec.
The survey found that 90 per cent of respondents outside Quebec feel the flag is an important source of personal or collective pride.
Jedwab said even though that figure is 24 percentage points higher than in Quebec, the results still suggest that most Quebecers are proud of the Maple Leaf.
"There's something about the flag that they like in terms of the way Canada gets represented abroad," he said of Quebec public opinion.
"Quebecers, it strikes me, like representing themselves as Canadians outside of Quebec more so than within Quebec."
The poll results found that on most of the 16 Canadian symbols identified, such as the flag, more Quebecers described them as important than unimportant.
On the anthem, 58 per cent of Quebecers called it very or somewhat important. On the military, 61 per cent of Quebecers called it an important symbol. Eighty-nine per cent called the Charter of Rights important. Eighty-two per cent called bilingualism important, more than any other region.
Still, Quebecers' sense of Canadian pride was considerably lower than other respondents on most issues.
The most glaring examples were the monarchy and the War of 1812 — which only a minority of Quebec respondents, 16 per cent and 33 per cent, called important.
The online poll does not include the traditional margin of error provided by telephone polling. Online surveys use self-selected respondents, making it impossible to come up with the kind of margin of error found in polls based on telephoned respondents.