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Quebecers proud of Maple Leaf, poll suggests

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MONTREAL -- A new poll suggests while the Parti Québécois government seeks to remove the Canadian flag from the provincial legislature, most people in Quebec view the Maple Leaf as a source of pride.

The survey suggests the flag the PQ wants to remove is viewed as a source of "personal or collective pride'' by two-thirds of Quebecers.

The online poll, commissioned by the Association for Canadian Studies, asked respondents whether they considered different national symbols very important, somewhat important, not very important, or not important at all as sources of personal or collective pride in Canada.

The survey said when it came to the flag, 66 per cent of Quebec respondents answered yes -- with 29 per cent calling it very important and 37 per cent calling it somewhat important. Twenty-two per cent said it was not very important, and only 10 per cent said it was not important at all.

The online poll does not include the traditional margin of error provided by telephone polling.

The Leger Marketing survey of 2,207 respondents -- 656 in Quebec -- explored how much pride Canadians have in 16 different symbols, accomplishment and events.

The findings shine a light on public opinion in a province that has been sending mixed political messages lately: Quebec recently elected the pro-independence PQ, but only with a minority and at a time when polls suggest support for independence is low, while the PQ's sister party in Ottawa, the Bloc, was nearly wiped off the map barely a year earlier.

The newly elected PQ quickly took steps to expel the flag from the National Assembly, as it had during its previous stint in power. It faced more resistance this time.

The PQ, holding a minority for only the first time in its history, has been forced to call a vote on the flag issue. The vote on whether to officially remove the Maple Leaf from the legislature's upper chamber was scheduled to take place on Wednesday but was put off until Dec. 4.

The PQ proposal appears headed for defeat, with the two main opposition parties signalling their intention to vote against it.

Jack Jedwab, executive director of the Association for Canadian Studies, believes the three-month-old minority government is using the flag dispute as a way to appease the party's hardline sovereigntist base.

"Right now, in a minority-government situation, they're unable to make any meaningful progress with respect to the sovereignty option,'' Jedwab said of the PQ's decision to target the Maple Leaf.

"I don't think that they're going at an issue that's going to get them a lot of sympathy, other than from their base.''

The Canadian flag has had an on-again, off-again presence in the Quebec legislature's committee chamber, also known as the Red Room. It is the only visible spot in the building where the emblem hangs.

Premier Pauline Marois' government made a formal request to remove it earlier this month, on the 36th anniversary of the election of the first PQ government in 1976.

That year, then-PQ premier René Lévesque was the first to put the Quebec flag in the legislative chamber, the Blue Room, where the daily debates are held and votes are cast. In 1983, he put the Fleur-de-lis in the Red Room, used for ceremonial events and committee hearings.

The Maple Leaf was eventually added to the Red Room by federalist Liberal premier Robert Bourassa when he returned to power in 1985. It was removed by successive PQ premiers before being brought back in 2003 after Jean Charest's Liberals took power.

Neither federalist premier, Bourassa or Charest, put the Maple Leaf in the legislative chamber, fearing a backlash from nationalists. The flag was on the move again last month when the PQ took it out of the chamber for its swearing-in ceremony, although it later reappeared.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 29, 2012 A18

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