Quebecers warm to royal visit, cool to monarchy

As Prince William and Kate Middleton prepare for their day-and-a-half sojourn in la belle province, new polling suggests there is a huge gulf between Quebec and the rest of Canada when it comes to support for the monarchy.

Most too ambivalent about monarchy to actively protest William, Kate visit

Protesters clash with riot police as they await the arrival of Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, in Montreal on Nov. 10, 2009. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

As Prince William and Kate Middleton prepare for their day-and-a-half sojourn in la belle province, new polling suggests there is a huge gulf between Quebec and the rest of Canada when it comes to support for the monarchy.

Public sentiment toward the royals in Quebec "ranges from utter indifference to mild hostility," according to lifelong Quebecer and Montreal Gazette columnist Bill Brownstein.

But while some people might actively protest during William and Kate's visit, most Quebecers couldn't be bothered.

Indeed, an online poll of 1,016 Canadians conducted by Ipsos-Reid between June 20 and 27 shows that 67 per cent of Quebecers want to get rid of the monarchy while only 42 per cent of Canadians outside the province support such a move. However, 51 per cent of Quebecers said they were "excited" about William and Kate's impending visit.

In the rest of Canada, support for the monarchy is up, with 58 per cent wanting to maintain it once Queen Elizabeth's reign ends, up from 50 per cent in a similar poll in 2010. (The poll is considered accurate within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.)

Another poll of 1,005 Canadians conducted online by Abacus Data on June 23 and 24 suggests 63 per cent of Quebecers are opposed to the monarchy while only 13 per cent in the province support the institution. In the rest of Canada, 41 per cent support the monarchy and 32 per cent oppose it. (The survey's margin of error was plus or minus 3.2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.)

'I wouldn't think that anyone would get downright dangerous.'— Bill Brownstein, Montreal Gazette columnist

Despite the wide opposition to the monarchy in Quebec on paper, Brownstein says most Quebecers are passive on the issue.

"I wouldn't think that anyone would get downright dangerous," said Brownstein of the monarchy's opponents in Quebec. "I mean, they might protest at demonstrations, but I don't think you'd see anything subversive in terms of something violent."

Nevertheless, there is political opposition. In May, for example, Amir Khadir, a popular member of Quebec's national assembly for the left-wing Québec solidaire party, told a Quebec City newspaper that William and Kate were "parasites" and "a waste of public money."

And there are some members of the public who plan to make their feelings known when the couple visits the province.

Protest group expecting 'nervous' police, activists

In 2009, the small, radical separatist group Réseau de Résistance du Québécois (Quebecer Resistance Network) staged such a raucous demonstration during a visit by Prince Charles that the heir to the throne and his wife, Camilla, suffered the embarrassment of having to enter an event at Montreal's Black Watch armoury through the back door.

The same group is now promising to disrupt William and Kate's public appearances in Quebec City this weekend. The RRQ said it is readying its "welcoming committee" for the royal visit and has hired 40 security guards to keep the 300 protesters it expects to show up in check.

"We're expecting surprises," RRQ spokesperson Julien Gaudreau told Radio-Canada. "Since the press coverage will be so intense, I have a feeling that law enforcement will be a bit nervous and our activists will be a bit nervous, too.

Premier Jean Charest says he is not concerned by the threat of protests during William and Kate's visit to Quebec. ((Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press))

Quebec Premier Jean Charest is not concerned with how protests against the royal visit will affect the province's image abroad.

"The royal family is used to travelling around the world and it happens occasionally there are protests," he said in London on June 28. "I do not feel that this is something that will change the meaning of the visit."

Troubled history

Quebec's relationship with the monarchy has often been strained.

"Symbolically, the British beat the French on the Plains of Abraham," said Brownstein, referring to the 1759 battle that led to the French ceding the territory that eventually became Quebec to Great Britain.

In times of war, Quebecers were very loyal subjects. The current Queen's father, King George VI, and his wife, Queen Elizabeth, chose Quebec City as the first stop  on their visit to Canada in May 1939. There, and in Montreal, they received a rapturous welcome as they drummed up Canadian support for the coming Second World War.

But the postwar period saw the emergence of Quebec nationalism. The Quiet Revolution of the 1960s modernized the state, asserted the power of the province's French-speaking majority and gave birth to Quebec separatism, which was inherently republican.

When Queen Elizabeth came to visit Quebec City in 1964, she was greeted by booing protesters, many of whom turned their backs to her as she toured the streets. Police beat down and arrested dozens of people in what became infamously known as "Truncheon Saturday."

The Queen received a very similar reception on a quick Canada Day stopover in Hull, Que., after the failure of the Meech Lake Accord in 1990. Quebec nationalists lined one side of the street along her procession route and turned their backs to her. On the other side of the street, a federalist demonstration cheered on the monarch. In recent years, members of the royal family have generally avoided visiting Quebec.

In 2008, the federal government advised the Queen to stay home for Quebec City's 400th anniversary celebrations, believing her presence would be too controversial. She has not made an official visit to the province since 1987.

New faces, same issues

On this trip, William and Kate's Quebec itinerary is decidedly low profile. All of their Montreal events will be held in private, and in Quebec City they will only be attending two public events.

The likelihood that William and Kate's visit will reverse Quebecers' ennui with the monarchy is slim, Brownstein says, chalking up pre-visit media hype to a general fascination with celebrity glitz and glamour rather than a newfound affection for royalty.

"There's this kind of grand, movie star thing [about William and Kate]," Brownstein said, "but as soon as [Quebecers] see Charles and Camilla or the Queen and Philip, it's back to business with indifference or mild hostility."

Ultimately, says Brownstein, while Quebecers may have their opinions on the monarchy, there's no widespread public will to act on them.

"It's not as if they affect our lives in the slightest," he said. "So, for us, it's hard to get too worked up about it."