To Western nations shaken by populist uprisings, Canada – with its robust economy and charismatic, outward-looking prime minister – looks like a beacon of stability and liberalism.
But underneath Canada’s placid and polite exterior, the US’ northern neighbor is grappling with its own breed of homegrown separatists.
Officials from the mainly French-speaking province of Quebec recently reignited a long-dormant debate over the Canadian constitution.
This week, the Globe and Mail said the announcement kicked off an “anxious season of separatism.”
Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard unveiled a 200-page manifesto detailing his government’s vision for Quebec’s revamped role within Canada, saying the time was right for the province’s “distinct character” to be officially recognized, reported Canada’s CBC News.
Quebec was the only province not to sign onto Canada’s constitution in 1982, though it narrowly voted against leaving Canada in a 1995 referendum.
But according to Coulliard, Quebec hopes negotiations will lead to a constitutional deal that increases the provincial government’s powers.
Among Quebec’s demands are veto powers over constitutional changes, increased immigration controls and a guaranteed seat on Canada’s Supreme Court, wrote Reuters.
Many Canadians greeted Couillard’s demands with indifference. But some of Canada’s indigenous First Nations groups welcomed Quebec’s push for constitutional renewal, wrote the Globe and Mail.
Other critics dismissed the move as an electoral ploy ahead of Quebec’s 2018 regional elections.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has rebuffed Quebec’s advances and vowed that he would “not reopen Canada’s constitution.”
The timing of Quebec’s maneuvers is not exactly fortuitous for Trudeau.
Regional elections held last month in British Columbia – Canada’s westernmost province – put a left-leaning, minority government coalition of the New Democratic Party and the Greens into power.
The provincial vote poses a major setback to Trudeau’s Liberal Party and could have some serious consequences for business given British Columbia’s importance to the Canadian economy, said Bloomberg.
In particular, the new government could endanger some of Trudeau’s high-profile energy projects like the Trans Mountain crude oil pipeline expansion on Canada’s West Coast, wrote Fortune.
That puts added pressure on Trudeau, who is already bracing himself for the upcoming renegotiation of NAFTA with the US and Mexico, said CNBC. Talks are set to begin in August under a bruising 90-day timeline.
Between those looming talks and domestic political pressure, Trudeau might find it easier to meet Quebec halfway.
As Reuters noted, his Liberal Party will have to pick up seats in the Francophone province if it wants to prevail in Canada’s next elections in 2019.