After Scotland's Vote, a Warning From Quebec: 'An Idea Never Dies'

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard Photograph by Francois Laplante Delagrave/AFP/Getty Images

Scots may have voted against independence last week, but the leader of Quebec knows that the longing for separation isn’t going away. “I’d say that an idea never dies,” Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard said today during a visit to Bloomberg’s New York headquarters. “You don’t kill an idea because a vote happens.”

Couillard is familiar with the persistence of separatist yearnings because he is a staunch federalist, opposed to separation for Quebec. As leader of the Liberal Party, he won election as premier last April against a Parti Quebecois opponent who favored a referendum on independence for Quebec. The French-speaking province was torn up by independence votes in referendums in 1980 and 1995.

“This tension is always there,” Couillard said, between the desire to assert one’s identity and the desire to be part of a larger nation. He speculated that the Scottish referendum might never have occurred if Scotland had as much autonomy as Quebec has within Canada, but added that negotiations over greater autonomy for Scotland as well as Wales, Northern Ireland, and England “can be a perilous game.”

One risk, he said, is that investors flee from places that seem at risk of instability. “As we used to say, there’s nothing as nervous as $1 million. There are a lot of places in the world to invest. Quebec is just one on the list.”

And Couillard noted that in this era of globalization, in which supranational organizations and markets have greater power than ever, breaking away from the U.K. or Canada doesn’t achieve what it once might have: “If you sit down calmly and think about it—what would it really change?”

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