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Not two solitudes, but Quebec and Canada remain apart, poll shows

Relations between Canada and Quebec have rarely been so calm, but voters on both sides remain skeptical that the relationship is headed in the right direction, a new poll shows.

The poll by Nanos Research found Quebeckers are evenly split on the question while Canadians overall have a slightly more positive outlook.

"But when three out of 10 Canadians think we're headed in the wrong direction, and two out of 10 are unsure, it means this relationship is still fundamentally a work in progress," said pollster Nik Nanos.

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As usual, they feel that way for completely different reasons.

Among Canadians with a negative view, 17 per cent blame Quebec's supposed desire to leave Canada, despite the fact support for sovereignty has hit historic lows below 40 per cent in recent months.

Among Quebeckers with a negative view of the relationship, the most common reason cited was the power imbalance between Canada and Quebec. Another 16 per cent feel that Quebec is just different.

While Canadians remain suspicious over Quebec's intention to separate and the province continues to be jealous of federal power, the poll conducted by Nanos Research a month ago and released Wednesday is sprinkled with reasons for optimism.

Among the 41 per cent of Quebeckers who feel Canada is headed in the right direction, the greatest portion (34 per cent) say they feel positive because relations are getting cozier with the rest of the country.

Only 19 per cent of Canadians agree with that sentiment, giving almost equal weight to the decline of separatism (20 per cent) as the reason.

Mr. Nanos says the numbers show détente between Ottawa and Quebec City and the crushing defeat of the Bloc Québécois in the May federal election have had a "positive effect, but I don't think it's any cause for celebration."

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Reaction to the election of 59 New Democratic MPs and the decimation of the Bloc is particularly instructive about the gulf remaining between the province and the rest of Canada, Mr. Nanos notes.

The election result is seen as a key factor leading to rapprochement between the province and the country among 16 per cent of Canadian respondents. In Quebec, only about 5 per cent see the election as particularly significant.

Many political scientists and pundits in Quebec cautioned Canadians against interpreting the NDP advance as some kind of expression of love for Canada, and the numbers appear to back them up. It should be viewed as just one more block building that relationship rather than a defining moment, Mr. Nanos said.

"Quebeckers are very practical. They're not hanging their hat on the fact the Bloc was wiped out six months ago as a signal relations are going to get better," Mr. Nanos said.

The poll of 1,210 people also surveyed Canadian attitudes toward language.

While 79 per cent of Quebeckers say it's very important for the future of Canada that both official languages are spoken, the poll found a majority of Canadians right across the country also feel it is at least somewhat important.

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"Even when you go into the conservative heartland, there is a recognition among a majority of voters that the ability to speak both English and French is important to the country," Mr. Nanos said.

Canadians may quibble about how bilingualism is implemented, Mr. Nanos noted, but they seem to agree on the principle.

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