The outlook of Québec's political future is by no means certain, said Gilles Duceppe, leader of the Bloc Québécois, at an event hosted by the Canada Institute. Duceppe offered an overview of the status of Québec's sovereigntist movement and what an independent Québec would mean to the United States. Duceppe was received by a diverse audience comprised of Canadian and U.S. government officials, representatives from the business and academic communities, and the Canadian media.

Duceppe maintained that the sovereigntist movement is far from dead in Québec. In contrast, he said, there is growing evidence to suggest that the push for a sovereign Québec is well positioned to move forward in the near future. He noted that the Québec Liberal Party is struggling and recent polls indicate that should an election be held today, the Parti Québécois—Québec's provincial political party that supports an independent Québec—would win a majority. At the federal level, Duceppe believes that the current Conservative government has estranged itself from Québec, ensuring continued strong support among Québecers for the Bloc Québécois. According to Duceppe, a Parti Québécois win in the next election will all but ensure a resurgence in the sovereigntist movement.

Assessing U.S.-Québec Relations

The province of Québec would expect the United States not to interfere in the province's sovereigntist movement or influence the outcome of another sovereignty referendum, said Duceppe. He added that an independent Québec would recognize the United States as its most important trading partner, noting that Québec's trade with the United States far exceeds that with the rest of Canada. Duceppe also stressed that an independent Québec would designate the United States as the focal point of its foreign policy to ensure that strong relations are maintained.

Duceppe highlighted climate change and Afghanistan as two other foreign policy priorities for Québec. He maintained that his party supports involvement in Afghanistan, but shares the Canadian government's perspective that it is time for Canadian military involvement to come to an end. He said that while Québec's ability to contribute militarily in international operations is constrained by its limited resources, the province can be a leader in reconstruction operations.

Duceppe stated that his party advocates strong action on climate change and is in favor of policies, such as cap and trade and green tariffs, that balance environmental and competitiveness aspirations. He noted that Québec is a leader in using clean energy and will continue to develop its hydro and wind capabilities.

Following Duceppe's remarks, one participant questioned whether an independent Québec would be able to maintain its current trade relationship with the United States. The NAFTA, he noted, would not necessarily be extended to an independent Québec and negotiating an extension could be extremely difficult given the currently unfavorable political climate surrounding free trade in the United States.

Drafted by Ken Crist
David Biette, Director, Canada Institute