That’s a stark contrast with the circumstances of the last two referendums on sovereignty. The first, in 1980, was the culmination of years of upheaval in Quebec that ranged from political battles with Ottawa over the division of powers to bombs and kidnappings. A “soft” question on granting the Quebec government the authority to negotiate sovereignty-association with Canada was defeated by a comfortable margin. The “No” campaign had some powerful forces on its side, not the least of whom was Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.
The 1995 referendum, with a somewhat convoluted question, came at a time of jacked-up emotion in Quebec. A failed attempt at constitutional reform to accommodate Quebec’s demands rocketed secessionist sentiment to its highest point ever. The No side squeezed out a narrow victory, with the help of the man who would go on to be the premier of Quebec, Jean Charest.
While it is true that Prime Minister Stephen Harper is not particularly popular in Quebec and doesn’t have many MPs from the province, he hasn’t offended the province to the point where people want to burn their Canadian passports in the street.
In the campaign, Marois vowed if she were elected, she would immediately go to Ottawa to demand Harper hand over certain powers, hoping that if there is resistance, she can ratchet up public ire. But now, as the head of a government with a paper-thin plurality of seats, she’s not exactly packing a mandate to talk tough with the prime minister of Canada.
Indeed, an interesting phenomenon occurred in the polls during the election: As support for the PQ inched up, support for a referendum and sovereignty plummeted.
The election results are obviously deeply frustrating for the PQ. For a party whose raison d’etre is the separation of Quebec, to be denied the opportunity to advance its agenda is likely to have consequences for the future of the party.