09/25/2018 15:38 EDT | Updated 09/26/2018 08:59 EDT

Exclusive Leger Poll: Many Quebec Francophones No Longer Identify As Quebecers First

Their identity is experiencing seismic shifts, according to a poll conducted for HuffPost.

Many Quebecers, both English and French-speaking, no longer consider themselves Quebecers first.
Getty Images/Photononstop RF
Many Quebecers, both English and French-speaking, no longer consider themselves Quebecers first.

Over the last ten years, significant changes have been taking place in Quebec. As a society, it has become more diverse and more complex. Questions that were at the heart of Quebec politics, particularly those around independence, have been relegated to the back burner.

A new exclusive poll conducted by Leger for HuffPost Quebec shows a significant reversal of course. Many Quebecers, both English and French-speaking, no longer consider themselves Quebecers first.

According to the results of the poll, only 48 per cent of francophones consider themselves "Quebecois first" or "Quebecois only," a number that drops to 39 per cent for the whole population. Conversely, 33 per cent of responders considered themselves "as much Quebecois as Canadian," and 23 per cent define themselves first or exclusively as Canadian.

In 2011, 60 per cent of the population defined themselves first as Quebecers, according to a similar poll conducted at that time. Other studies which included the term "French Canadian" indicated that between 67 and 69 percent of francophones considered themselves "Quebecois first."

"The only number that's gone up over the past few years is the proportion of people who say they consider themselves more or less equally Canadian and Quebecois," said Christian Bourque, executive vice-president of Leger.

AFP/Getty Images
Thousands of Canadians rally in Montreal on Oct. 27, 1995 in a bid to persuade citizens of Quebec not to secede from Canada.

This change is not trivial, especially for the sovereignty movement. The leader of the Parti Quebecois (PQ) Jean-François Lisee was doing presentations on this question in 2012, back when he was head of the Centre d'études et de recherches internationales de l'Université de Montréal (CÉRIUM).

"Identity is the spinal column of the sovereignty vote," he said in a presentation that is still available on YouTube. "There is no doubt that if we had had 69 per cent of francophones saying they were "Quebecois first" in 1995, the 'Yes' vote would have carried it,"

The numbers in HuffPost Quebec poll track with Lisee's comments in 2012. Around 37 per cent of population would support sovereignty if a referendum were held today, taking into account undecided voters. The figure shoots up to 77 per cent among those who consider themselves "Quebecois first."

Quebecois, Canadian and other

Today, the question of identity is much more complex than a simple choice between Canada and Quebec. According to Bourque, younger generations have many more national, ethnic and cultural identities represented, especially if they are immigrants, non-native speakers or visible minorities, all groups that are growing in Quebec.

"For many young people today, it isn't one or the other. You have the right to be several things at once without there being any sort of contradiction between them," he said. "Those who are newly arrived share a similar mentality. They take on new identities without replacing previous ones."

Those who are newly arrived ... take on new identities without replacing previous ones.Christian Bourque, executive vice-president of Leger

The Leger/HuffPost Quebec poll shows clearly this phenomenon. Immigrants and visible minorities are more likely to state that their ethnic origins are an important part of their identity (22 per cent and 27 per cent respectively, compared to 10 per cent of those in the majority). At the same time, only 2 percent of respondents stated that their primary identity was something other than Quebecois or Canadian.

According to the latest census, almost 14 per cent of Quebecers were born outside the country and a little less than 13 per cent were part of a visible minority.

Reticence towards Quebec

A number of studies conducted over the last few years, including by the Association for Canadian Studies (ACS), show that the majority of non-native speakers have an attachment to Quebec, but that the numbers are lower than among francophones. Similarly, attachment to Canada is higher and attachment to municipality, especially in Montreal, is comparable.

"Immigrants don't necessarily see themselves reflected in institutions, in the speeches of elected officials and in the media here in Quebec, compared to what we see in Montreal and in Canada as a whole. There, the discourse appears more diverse, the people running the institutions are more diverse, and the issues are described in a way that is more relevant to this diversity," said ACS executive vice-president Jack Jedwab.

Immigrants don't necessarily see themselves reflected in institutions, in the speeches of elected officials and in the media here in Quebec.Jack Jedwab, ACS executive vice-president

This state of affairs saddens Paul Saint-Pierre Plamondon, PQ candidate in the Prevost riding. In 2016, "PSPP" was given the job of finding ways of making his party younger and more diverse.

"I'm worried about this demonisation of the Quebecois identity," Saint-Pierre Plamondon told HuffPost Quebec. "There can be many different levels of identity. But to systematically cast aside Quebecois identity, I think that's a choice that would be dangerous for our future and for our democracy."

Saint-Pierre Plamondon believes that Quebec must work to build a more fair society so that all citizens can easily find their place.

The results of the Leger/HuffPost Quebec survey were obtained through a Web poll conducted between Aug. 17-21, 2018, based on a representative sample of 1,010 Quebecers above the age of 18 who speak French or English.

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