Sovereign Quebec would leave Maritimes isolated, experts say

Published on April 6, 2014

If Quebec's Pauline Marois wins today's provincial election and leads a successful referendum to secede, it could mean big problems for the Maritimes, experts say.

Henry Srebrnik, a political science professor at UPEI, said while a PQ majority doesn't necessarily spell sovereignty, it could lead to a new separatist referendum.

"Should they win it, I think the Maritimes would be in deep trouble.'

One concern is how the new nation of Quebec would deal with sharing the Gulf of St. Lawrence, he said.

"The Magdalen Islands are pretty deep into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, they're not that far from P.E.I."

It would mean delineating all kinds of new boundaries, including those relating to fishing and mining. Western Canada could possibly constitute a new nation, and Alberta in particular might see it as a chance to stop equalization, he said.

If Quebec left Canada, the rest of the country would be primarily an English-speaking country, aside from the Acadians. New Brunswick and the Acadians would have the most to lose in the Maritimes if Quebec left, he said.

Paul Howe, political science professor at the University of New Brunswick, said he thinks the psychological effect of Quebec's secession would be the biggest concern.

"I think already, sometimes, the Maritimes and Atlantic provinces struggle to get the attention of the rest of Canada."

That isolation can make Atlantic Canadians wonder how much the rest of Canada really cares about what's happening in the Maritimes.

"If Quebec became independent, psychologically, I think that distance would grow even greater."

In terms of Canadian politics, there's a good chance the Conservative party would be in power a lot of the time in a Canada that didn't include Quebec. This is because the Conservatives have such a strong base out West and in Ontario, he said.

"[They] want to reduce the dependence of Atlantic Canada in terms of transfer payments and EI changes, that's kind of the direction they're already taking. In the long term, as those kinds of things develop, I think it could be a very bad situation for Atlantic Canada."

Sovereignty seems to be the main goal of the Parti Quebecois, though he doubts a referendum would be won at this point, he said. But if it were, he too thinks it could spell trouble for the Maritimes.

"We could find ourselves isolated, quite unsupported, and we might even have to look at other options as to what is our political future, what do we do? That is certainly something I would be concerned about."

David Frank, a historian and professor at UNB, said Canada is the greatest country in the world.

"I wouldn't want to live any place else. One of the great things about this country is that we have a diversity of resources and regions."

However, Canada is not without problems, he said.

Frank said the Maritimes were doubtful about Confederation at first, and though the region gradually became "Canadianized", there has always been a perception that Confederation was an asymmetrical partnership of regions and provinces.

This is something the Maritimes share with Quebec: language and separate identity are only one part of the story, he said.

"There's a whole vision of, ‘what kind of society do we want?'

There might be some people there that have voted PQ for ages but don't really believe in separatism, they just thought the party had a more social democratic vision."

But with Pauline Marois' era, they're showing that they may not really be as democratic as was thought, he said.

"So with their attack on multiculturalism and their alliance with big business, it kind of makes people look twice at the PQ and say, is that really Rene Lévesque's party?"