The current Canadian constitutional crisis has many roots: the alienation of the western provinces, the increasing difficulties of the federal government in funding poorer provinces, aboriginal renewal, the intrusion of a Charter of Rights and of a powerful Supreme Court into a parliamentary Westminster system. But only one factor challenges the unity of the country: Quebec secessionism.
Quebecers have freely elected pro-Canada politicians since the beginning of the federation in 1867. Their situation cannot be compared with new democracies issued from decaying totalitarian regimes, like the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, or Czechoslovakia. The Quebec question bears more similarity with the re-emergence of pro-autonomy movements in some West-European countries. But neither Scotland, Catalonia, nor any other region in Western Europe is as likely as Quebec to become an independent country in the near future. Quebec is a striking case that may have important leading effects on what will happen in Europe.
Why in this era are many Quebecers so nationalistic that they wish to exit from a country that is envied around the world? Secessionist movements are rooted in two antithetical feelings or incentives shared by any linguistic, religious, or ethnic group looking to leave a union. First, is a fear of being weakened or even of disappearing as a distinct people if the group stays in the union. Second, is a confidence among the group that it can perform as well, or even better, on its own and that the secession is not too risky. A third feeling of rejection, the sensation of no longer being welcomed in the union, may also occur. Secession is most likely to take place when these feelings are all at high levels.