A majority of Quebec residents favor giving the government of that French-speaking province a mandate to negotiate for limited independence from the rest of Canada, a major public opinion survey reported today.
Sovereignty-association, as it is called, or political independence coupled with an economic association between Quebec and Canada, is the stated aim of the secessionist Quebec government which will probably hold a referendum on the province's political future next year.
The survey, prepared for the French and English networks of the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., showed a majority of Quebec residents overwhelmingly opposed to outright independence. But it revealed that 50 percent would vote in favor of a referendum authorizing the Quebec government to negotiate sovereignty-association.
The Quebec government has not yet defined precisely what is meant by sovereignty-association, and the confusion about the term surfaced in the survey yesterday. More than one-third who had heard of the term said they had no idea what it means.
The survey also showed that a majority of English Canadians would negotiate sovereignty-association if the Quebec government won its referendum, a finding likely to cause consternation among Canada's national political parties, which are on the brink of an election.
Both Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and Conservative Party leader Joe Clark have insisted that they would never negotiate the breakup of Canada with the Quebec government.
The survey revealed that the most popular political option in Quebec remains a restructured federalism giving more power to provincial governments. But support for a restructured federalism has declined sharply during the last two years.
The CBC survey confirmed previous polls showing an increasing possibility that the Quebec government can win the referendum if the question asked is vaguely worded.
The survey offers little solace to Trudeau's Liberal government on the eve of the election, since a majority of English-speaking Canadians told the survey they feel "things are not going well in Canada."