The Quebec sovereignty movement (Mouvement souverainiste du Québec) is a political movement aimed at either attaining independent statehood (sovereignty) or some degree of greater political autonomy for the Canadian province of Quebec.
In practice, "separatism", "independence" and "sovereignty" are all used to describe the goal of having the province of Quebec leave Canada to become a country on its own, with future possibilities of various collaborations with Canada. However, sovereignty is the term most commonly employed.
While the most apparent reason for separatism is Quebec having a Francophone or predominantly French-speaking (French-Canadian or Québécois) majority, as compared to the rest of Canada which consists of all but two English-dominant provinces (New Brunswick often is considered as essentially having a bilingual population while Nunavut speaks Eskimo), the origins and evolution of the movement are actually fairly complex. Some scholars may point to historical events as framing the cause for ongoing support for sovereignty in Quebec, while more contemporary pundits and political actors may point to the aftermath of more recent developments like the Meech Lake Accord or the Charlottetown Accord. Since polling has begun, support for sovereignty in Quebec has traditionally rested between 40% and 56%.
The idea of sovereignty for Quebec is based, according to its proponents, on historical and sociological evidence that Quebecers are a people and a political nation—see Identity Politics. However, in recent polling, only Francophone Quebecers responded to questions implying they believe they belong to a Quebec nation, and non-Francophone Quebecers reject this idea. Still, vocal elements of the francophone Quebecer political class feel that they have democratic control over a state of their own, but that inside the Canadian federation as it currently stands, this state does not have the constitutional powers which the Quebec government needs to be the effective national government of Quebecers.
Several attempts at reforming the federal system of Canada have thus far failed because of, particularly, the conflicting interests between sovereignists' representatives and the other provincial governments' representatives (see Constitutional debate of Canada). There is also a degree of resistance throughout Quebec and the rest of Canada to re-open constitutional debate for a number of reasons, in part, because of the nature of these failures—not all of which were the result simply of separatists and federalists not getting along. To cite one case, in a recent round of constitutional reform (see the Meech Lake Accord), an aboriginal leader from Manitoba was able to prevent ratification of the agreement in the provincial legislature because the interests of Canada's aboriginal population were not addressed.
René Lévesque, architect of the first sovereignty vote, claimed a willingness to work for change in the Canadian framework after the federalist victory in the referendum of 1980. This approach was dubbed le beau risque ("the beautiful risk"). The 1982 repatriation of the Canadian Constitution did not solve the issue in the point of view of the majority of sovereigntist Quebecers. The constitutional amendment of 1982 was agreed to by representatives from 9 of the 10 provinces (i.e., in the absence of Quebec representatives). It has still not been symbolically endorsed by Quebec as of 2008. See Patriation for further details.
While it is suggested that there existed a belief amongst the people of Quebec that a harmonizing constitution geared to recognize the people of Quebec would be signed in 1982, there are unquestionably numerous other possible reasons the 'Yes' campaign went down to defeat. The economy of Quebec suffered measurably following the election of the separatist Parti Québécois and continued to during the course of the campaign. The Canadian dollar lost much of its value and, during coverage of the dollar's recovery against U.S. currency, there were repeated citations of the referendum and political instability caused by it cited as cause for the fall. Some have also suggested that faith in a promised constitutional agreement with the rest of Canada is widely acknowledged to be the cause of the failure of the Yes vote of the first referendum. But others suggest there were promises of constitutional reform to address outstanding political issues between the province and the federal government both before and since without any sign of particularly greater expectation those promises would be filled to any greater or lesser degree. There remains no conclusive evidence that the sovereignty movement derives significant support today because of anything that was promised back in the 1970s.
It is sometimes suggested by proponents of the sovereignty movement that many people in Quebec feel "had" for believing the constitutional promises that the federal government and Pierre Trudeau made just before the 1980 Quebec referendum. The constitutional reform promises made by Trudeau and the federal government were not delivered on paper or agreed upon in principle by the federal government or the other provincial governments. But one conclusion that appears to be universal is that one event in particular – dubbed "the night of the long knives" – energized the separatist movement during the 1980s. This event involved a "back-room" deal, struck between Trudeau, representing the federal government, and all of the other provinces, save Quebec. It was here that Trudeau was able to gain agreement on the content of the new constitution, while the separatist premier René Lévesque was simply left out. And it may well be that a certain number of Quebecers did and may even now feel "had" both about the nature of that deal and how Trudeau (a Quebecer himself) went about reaching it.
Regardless of Quebec government's refusal to approve the 1982 constitutional amendment because the promised reforms were not implemented (along with other numerous items within the constitution which infuriated Quebec politicians), the amendment went into effect. To many in Quebec, the 1982 constitutional amendment without Quebec's approval is still viewed as a historic political wound. The debate still occasionally rages within the province about the best way to heal the rift – and the sovereignty movement certainly derives some degree of support from a belief that healing should take the form of separation from Canada.
"I also criticized the unilateral repatriation of 1982, concluding that 'even in their moments of greatest mistrust, the Québécois never imagined that the pact of 1867 could ever be changed without their consent. Hence the impression they had in 1982 of a breach of trust, of a violation of the national bond's integrity. The descendants of George-Étienne Cartier did not expect this from the descendants of John A. Macdonald. Perceived as trickery in Quebec, the repatriation of 1982 has placed a time bomb in the political dynamics of this country' ". (p. 224, On the Record, Lucien Bouchard, former leader of the sovereignist federal political party, the Bloc Québécois.)
The failure of the Meech Lake Accord—an abortive attempt to redress the constitutional problems brought on by the adoption of the 1982 amendment without the Quebec government's approval—strengthened the conviction of most sovereigntist politicians and led many federalist ones to place little hope in the prospect of a federal constitutional reform that would satisfy Quebec's purported historical demands (according to proponents of the sovereignty movement). These include a constitutional recognition that Quebecers constitute a distinct society, as well as a larger degree of independence of the province towards federal policy.
"In Montreal, June 25, I walked along rue Sherbrooke to Olympic Stadium, submerged in the immense river of white and blue that seemed unstoppable on its march to sovereignty. Three days earlier, Bourassa, former minister of federalism, had hurriedly changed his tune: 'English Canada must understand that . . . Quebec is, today and forever, a distinct society, free and able to assume its destiny and its development.'" (p. 251, 'On the Record', Lucien Bouchard)
The contemporary sovereignty movement is thought to have originated from the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s, although the desire for an independent or autonomous French-Canadian state has periodically arisen throughout Quebec's history, notably during the 1837 Lower Canada Rebellion. Part of Quebec's continued historical desire for sovereignty is caused by Quebecers' perception of a singular English-speaking voice and identity that is dominant within the parameters of Canadian identity, with no incorporation of the Francophone identity. (This is a point contested in other parts of Canada – particularly in places like Manitoba which has a significant French-speaking population, and where in the 1990s that population tried to assert francophone language rights in schools. The separatist Parti Québécois-led government of Quebec offered up comment actually taking the side of the Manitoba government, which was opposing granting those rights. Speculation persists that the Quebec government opposed this assertion of francophone identity outside of the province because of the impact it would have on the assertion of anglophone language rights within its own borders.)
For a majority of Quebec politicians, whether separatist or not, the problem of Quebec's political status is considered unresolved to this day. Although Quebec independence is a political question, cultural concerns are also at the root of the desire for independence. The central cultural argument of the sovereigntists is that only sovereignty can adequately ensure the survival of the French language in North America, allowing Quebecers to establish their nationality, preserve their cultural identity, and keep their collective memory alive (see Language demographics of Quebec).
Quebec feels a lack of recognition has been given to them both domestically and on the international scene. In addition, the large Francophone population within New Brunswick and other areas of Canada often feel their culture is diminishing within Canada. The diminishing use of French outside Quebec is attributed to inadequate public infrastructures such as schools and "social integration" within a dominant English-speaking society.
"At the same time, a brutal gesture by the Saskatchewan legislature brought the first language crises to my doorstep. The legislature precipitously abrogated the only law guaranteeing linguistic rights to the French population. It was revenge for a recent Supreme Court decision that had confirmed the constraining power of the law requiring all provincial laws to be available in French. To avoid having to translate all their laws, Grant Devine's government moved to repeal the act. The French community reacted with indignation and asked for federal intervention". (p. 186, On the Record, Lucien Bouchard)
The threat to the French language outside of Quebec is a small contribution to the feelings of Quebec sovereigntists and separatists to form a fully independent Quebec nation free of any bonds to an English-speaking dominated federal government. Not every Quebec nationalist sees confederation as posing a threat to the status of the French language however, especially when the shrinking percentage of English-speaking Quebecers and the province's strict language laws are taken into account.
It has also been argued by prominent Quebecers (sovereigntists and ex-sovereigntists, including former Quebec premier Lucien Bouchard) that sovereignty politics has distracted Quebecers from the real economic problems of Quebec, and that sovereignty cannot solve those problems. In 2005 they published their position statement, "Pour un Québec lucide," ("For a clear vision of Quebec") which details the problems facing Quebec.
Many federalists oppose the Quebec Sovereignty movement for economic and political reasons, however many also oppose sovereignty on other grounds, seeing it, for example, as a hypocritical expression of ethnic nationalism. Support for separation has routinely been the weakest amongst non-Francophones (in particular, Anglophones, First Nations, allophones and immigrants). Those who support multiculturalism as opposed to Quebec nationalism are more likely to support federalism. However, the Sovereignty movement is by no means exclusively ethnic French in terms of membership, and the PQ in particular has attempted to embrace the multicultural reality of Montreal and increasingly other cities in Quebec.
Sovereignty-association (French: Souveraineté-Association) is the combination of two concepts:
It was first presented in Lévesque's political manifesto, Option Québec.
The Parti Québécois defines sovereignty as the power for a state to levy all its taxes, vote on all its laws, and sign all its treaties (as mentioned in the 1980 referendum question).
The type of association between an independent Quebec and the rest of Canada was described as a monetary and customs union as well as joint political institutions to administer the relations between the two countries. The main inspiration for this project was the then-emerging European Community. This belief continues to this day such a relationship can work, despite the fact that the European union while highly successful in some respects, has in other respects proven to detract many stronger nations and create some financial and political tension throughout Europe.
The hyphen between the words "sovereignty" and "association" was often stressed by Lévesque and other PQ members, to make it clear that both were inseparable. The reason stated was that if Canada decided to boycott Quebec exports after voting for independence, the new country would have to go through difficult economic times, as the barriers to trade between Canada and the United States were then very high. Quebec would have been a nation of 7 million people stuck between two impenetrable protectionist countries. In the event of having to compete against Quebec, rather than support it, Canada could easily maintain its well-established links with the United States to prosper in foreign trade.
Sovereignty-association as originally proposed would have meant that Quebec would become a politically independent state, but would maintain a formal association with Canada — especially regarding economic affairs. It was part of the 1976 separatist platform which swept the Parti Québécois into power in that year's provincial elections – and included a promise to hold a referendum on sovereignty-association. René Lévesque developed the idea of sovereignty-association to reduce the fear that an independent Quebec would face tough economic times. In fact, this proposal did result in an increase in support for a sovereign Quebec: polls at the time showed that people were more likely to support independence if Quebec maintained an economic partnership with Canada. This line of politics led the out-spoken Yvon DesChamps to proclaim that what Quebecers want is an independent Quebec inside a strong Canada, thereby comparing the sovereignist movement to a spoiled child that has everything it could desire and still wants more.
In 1979 the PQ began an aggressive effort to promote sovereignty-association by providing details of how the economic relations with the rest of Canada would include free trade between Canada and Quebec, common tariffs against imports, and a common currency. In addition, joint political institutions would be established to administer these economic arrangements. But the separatist cause was hurt as many politicians (most notably the premiers of several of the other provinces) publicly refused to negotiate an economic association with an independent Quebec, contributing to the Yes side losing by a vote of 60 percent to 40 percent.
This loss laid the groundwork for the 1995 referendum, which stated that Quebec should offer a new economic and political partnership to Canada before declaring independence. An English translation of part of the Sovereignty Bill reads, "We, the people of Quebec, declare it our own will to be in full possession of all the powers of a state; to levy all our taxes, to vote on all our laws, to sign all our treaties and to exercise the highest power of all, conceiving, and controlling, by ourselves, our fundamental law."
In this case, acceptance by the rest of Canada would not politically be a requirement. This time, the separatists lost in a very close vote: 50.6 percent to 49.4 percent, or only 53,498 votes out of more than 4,700,000 votes cast. However, after the vote many within the separatist camp were very upset that the vote broke down heavily along language lines. Approximately 90 percent of English speakers and allophones (mostly immigrants and first-generations Quebecers whose native language is neither French or English) Quebecers voted against the referendum, while almost 60 percent of Francophones voted Yes, and 82 percent of Quebecers are French-speaking. Quebec premier Jacques Parizeau, whose government supported sovereignty, attributed the defeat of the resolution to money and the ethnic vote. His opinion caused an outcry among English speaking Quebecers since it exposed the ethnocentric perspective of the leader, who focused blame for the defeat on minority communities as if to discount the influence of 40% of Francophones who voted no.
An inquiry by Le directeur général des élections concluded in 2007 that at least $500,000 was spent by the federalist camp in violation of Quebec's election laws. This law imposes a limit on campaign spending by both option camps. Parizeau's statement was also an admission of failure by the Yes camp in getting the newly arrived Quebecers to adhere to their political option.
While opponents of sovereignty were pleased with the defeat of the referendum, most recognized that there were still deep divides within Quebec and problems with the relationship between Quebec and the rest of the country.
After the signing of the free trade agreement between Canada and the United States, supporters of sovereignty-association revisited their options, and the need for an association with the rest of Canada was made optional. That is, an association with Canada is still wished for, but were it to fail, sovereignty would be economically viable because of the belief that Quebec could freely export to the U.S. market due to Canada's membership in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Some observers believe that Quebec's participation in NAFTA would be contingent upon the unanimous approval of the three original signatories. Currently, PQ members and outside supporters will often speak of 'sovereignty' alone, insisting on the idea that a sovereign Quebec would be legally capable of entering into international agreements it would deem suitable. In realistic terms, Quebec would be forced to enter the NAFTA agreement to ensure its sovereign survival.
Those in favour of independence vacillate between terming it "sovereignty" and "independence," but the two terms are considered to be synonymous. A small group of people prefer "independence" over the other term. The use of the term "sovereignty-association" is much less frequent, but is still heard (refer to the Modernization section below). Federalists almost always refer to sovereigntists as "séparatistes" a more negative, contemptuous term.
On September 10, 1960 the Rassemblement pour l'indépendance nationale (RIN) was founded, with Pierre Bourgault quickly becoming its leader. On August 9 of the same year, the Action socialiste pour l'indépendance du Québec (ASIQ) was formed by Raoul Roy. The "independence + socialism" project of the ASIQ was a source of political ideas for the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ).
On October 31, 1962, the Comité de libération nationale and, in November of the same year, the Réseau de résistance were set up. These two groups were formed by RIN members to organize non-violent but illegal actions, such as vandalism and civil disobedience. The most extremist individuals of these groups left to form the FLQ, which, unlike all the other groups, had made the decision to resort to violence in order to reach its goal of independence for Quebec. Shortly after the November 14, 1962, Quebec general election, RIN member Marcel Chaput founded the short-lived Parti républicain du Québec.
In February 1963, the FLQ was founded by three Rassemblement pour l'indépendance nationale members who had met each other as part of the Réseau de résistance. They were Georges Schoeters, Raymond Villeneuve, and Gabriel Hudon.
In 1964, the RIN became a provincial political party. In 1965, the more conservative Ralliement national (RN) also became a party.
The historical context of the time was a period when many former European colonies, such as Cameroon, Congo, Senegal, Algeria, and Jamaica, were becoming independent. Some advocates of Quebec independence saw Quebec's situation in a similar light; numerous activists were influenced by the writings of Frantz Fanon, Albert Memmi, and Karl Marx.
In June 1967, French president Charles de Gaulle, who had granted independence to Algeria, shouted Vive le Québec libre! during a speech from the balcony of Montreal's city hall during a state visit to Canada. In doing so, he deeply offended the federal government, and English Canadians felt he had demonstrated contempt for the sacrifice of Canadian soldiers who died on the battlefields of France in two world wars, ignoring the fact that the latter included drafted French Canadians who were opposed to fighting the wars of their colonizers. The visit was cut short and De Gaulle left the country. Many Canadians also saw his comments as being hypocritical given the historic and present intolerant policies towards minority languages and cultures (such as the Breton language, Basque language, Corsican language) and the German Language in Alsace-Lorraine by French governments, in contrast to Canada's policy of bilingualism.
Finally, in October 1967, former Liberal cabinet minister René Lévesque left that party when it refused to discuss sovereignty at a party convention. Lévesque formed the Mouvement souveraineté-association and set about uniting pro-sovereignty forces.
He achieved that goal in October 1968 when the MSA held its first (and last) national congress in Quebec City. The RN and MSA agreed to merge to form the Parti Québécois (PQ), and later that month Pierre Bourgault, leader of the RIN, dissolved his party and invited its members to join the PQ.
In the 1973 election, the PQ won six seats, a net loss of one. However, its share of the popular vote had significantly increased.
On August 26, 1977, the PQ passed two important laws: first, the law on the financing of political parties, which prohibits contributions by corporations and unions and set a limit on individual donations, and second, the Charter of the French Language.
At its seventh national convention from June 1 to 3, 1979, the sovereigntists adopted their strategy for the coming referendum. The PQ then began an aggressive effort to promote sovereignty-association by providing details of how the economic relations with the rest of Canada would include free trade between Canada and Quebec, common tariffs against imports, and a common currency. In addition, joint political institutions would be established to administer these economic arrangements.
Sovereignty-association was proposed to the population of Quebec in the 1980 Quebec referendum. The proposal was rejected by 60 per cent of the Quebec electorate.
In September, the PQ created a national committee of Anglophones and a liaison committee with ethnic minorities.
Despite having lost the referendum, the PQ was returned to power in the 1981 election with a stronger majority than in 1976, obtaining 49.2 per cent of the vote and winning 80 seats. However, they did not hold a referendum in their second term, and put sovereignty on the back burner, concentrating on their stated goal of "good government".
Another consequence of the failure of the Meech Lake Accord was the formation of the Bloc Québécois (BQ), a sovereigntist federal political party, under the leadership of the charismatic former Progressive Conservative federal cabinet minister Lucien Bouchard. Several PC and Liberal members of the federal parliament left their parties to form the BQ. For the first time, the PQ supported pro-sovereigntist forces running in federal elections; during his lifetime Lévesque had always opposed such a move.
The Union Populaire had nominated candidates in the 1979 and 1980 federal elections, and the Parti nationaliste du Québec had nominated candidates in the 1984 election, but neither of these parties enjoyed the official support of the PQ; nor did they enjoy significant public support among Quebecers.
In the 1993 federal election, which featured the collapse of Progressive Conservative Party support, the BQ won enough seats in Parliament to become Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition in the House of Commons.
Parizeau promptly called a new referendum. The 1995 referendum question differed from the 1980 question in that the negotiation of an association with Canada was now optional.
The "No" camp again won, but only by a very small margin — 50.6% to 49.4%. As in the previous referendum, the English-speaking (anglophone) minority in Quebec overwhelmingly (about 90%) rejected sovereignty, support for sovereignty was also weak among allophones in immigrant communities and first-generation descendants. The lowest support for Yes side came from First Nations and Inuit voters in Quebec, First Nations chiefs asserted their right to self determination with the Cree being particularly vocal in their right to stay territories within Canada. More than 96% of the Inuit and Cree voted No in the referendum.
By contrast almost 60 per cent of francophones of all origins voted "Yes". (82 per cent of Quebecers are Francophone.) Later inquiries into irregularities determined that abuses had occurred on both sides: some "No" ballots had been rejected without valid reasons, and the 27 October "No" rally had evaded spending limitations because of out-of-province participation. An inquiry by "Le Directeur général des élections" concluded in 2007 that the "No" camp had exceeded the campaign spending limits by $500,000. Additionally, up to 217,000 non-existing voters were found on electoral lists, in ridings that voted predominantly "No".
On referendum night, Premier Jacques Parizeau attributed the defeat of the resolution to "money and [some of the] ethnic votes". Most sovereigntists politicians condemned the declaration, which eventually lead to Parizeau's resignation from his position as chief of the PQ, announced on October 31, the day following the referendum.
In the 2003 election, the PQ lost power to the Liberal Party. However, in early 2004, the Liberal government of Jean Chrétien had proved to be unpopular, and that, combined with the federal Liberal Party sponsorship scandal, contributed to a resurgence of the BQ. In the 2004 federal elections, the Bloc Québécois won 54 of Quebec's 75 seats in the House of Commons, compared to 33 previously.
While opponents of sovereignty were pleased with their referendum victories, most recognized that there are still deep divides within Quebec and problems with the relationship between Quebec and the rest of Canada.
Former Prime Minister Chrétien, under whom the Clarity Act was passed, considered the legislation among his most significant accomplishments.
In 2003, the PQ launched the Saison des idées ("Season of ideas") which is a public consultation aiming to gather the opinions of Quebecers on its sovereignty project. The new program and the revised sovereignty project was adopted at the 2005 Congress.
Canada finally recognized Kosovo on March 18, while claiming that this decision had "no bearing" on independence or sovereignty for Quebec.
Right and Left must be interpreted within the provincial context; Liberal Party politics generally coincide with those of other liberal parties, while PQ politics are more social democratic in orientation. There is no mass conservative movement in Quebec's political culture on the provincial level, due notably to strong government interventionism and Keynesianism shared by all parties since the 1960s (the so-called "Quebec Consensus" since the Quiet Revolution), and the province's Catholic heritage.
There are, of course, quite a few exceptions. Notable examples include:
Sovereignty has little support among Quebec Anglophones, immigrant communities, and aboriginal First Nations. About 60% of Francophones voted "Yes" in 1995, and with the exception of weak "Yes" support from the Arab community, most non-Francophones massively voted "No" (see Demolinguistics of Quebec). The opponents of the sovereignty movement view the project as ethnically exclusive based on its rejection by non-Francophones. This is a position sometimes disputed by the PQ, which attempts to present its project as all-embracing and essentially civic in nature.
Although the Alberta government had clashed with the federal government in the 1980s over the National Energy Program in what some saw as another challenge to national unity, Premier Peter Lougheed never considered separatism even as a negotiation ploy. British Columbia and Alberta have seen parties promoting secession, such as the Separation Party of Alberta, but these have been marginal. In 1982, Gordon Kesler was elected to the Alberta legislature under the banner of the Western Canada Concept Party, while in British Columbia no separatist party has ever had representatives elected to the provincial legislature. Newfoundland and Labrador (then called simply Newfoundland) joined Confederation in 1949 after the third referendum on the question of joining the Canadian confederation left many with a profound malaise and Newfoundlanders are still the most reluctant to identify themselves as Canadians before being Newfoundlanders.
The Charter of the French Language and other legislative acts approved by the National Assembly have reinforced the position of French as the primary language in Quebec. Since the enactment of the charter in 1977 French has been the only official language of Quebec. A broad range of services in English are maintained for the English-speaking community, including education and health care.
Reaction in the other nine provinces to the assertion of French-language rights and the strengthening nationalism amongst Francophones in Quebec has been mixed. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, the federal parliament enacted the Official Languages Act, making both French and English official languages throughout Canada, resulting in real efforts to improve accessibility to French services from the federal government. New Brunswick, with a large French-speaking minority, has become officially bilingual. Governments of other provinces, such as Ontario, which has a sizeable Francophone population, have increased the level of government services available to Francophone residents. French language education is now being made available to Francophones in many communities in Canada, and many English-Canadians are taking advantage of French immersion programs to encourage their children to acquire a basic working ability to communicate in French. On the other hand, official bilingualism and the Quebec Charter of the French Language have prompted considerable criticism outside of Quebec, and some official reaction, for example in legislation passed in Manitoba restraining accessibility to French education.
Despite attempts by the sovereignists to win their support, a large majority of Quebec non-Francophones (Anglophones and anglicized allophones) oppose the sovereignty movement while a small majority of Quebec Francophones (and francized allophones) support it . Furthermore, a large majority of the non-Francophones of Quebec say they are not members of any Quebec nation. After polling heavily on the subject, Leger president Mark Leger concluded: “These numbers surprise me, they’re so clear across the country... You look at Francophones outside Quebec, it’s the same result... Overall, outside the French in Quebec, all the other groups across the country are against this notion.” The exact question of the November 2006 poll was, "Currently, there is a political debate on recognizing Quebec as a nation. Do you personally consider that Quebecers form a nation or not?" Canadians from every region outside Quebec, non-Francophone Quebecers (62 per cent), Francophone Canadians outside Quebec (77 per cent) all resoundingly rejected the idea.
This used to be a paradoxical phenomenon because of the Parti Québécois and most sovereigntists being to the political left. Michel Rocard (who became Prime Minister of the French Republic) has been one of the French Socialists that broke that so-called rule the most, maintaining a close and warm relationship with Quebec sovereigntists. More recently, Ségolène Royal, leader of the French Socialist party, came out for "Quebec sovereignty" but it was seemingly a reflexive answer to an "out of the blue" question from a Quebec journalist in Paris. On a later visit to Quebec City she gave a more nuanced position, mentioning a Parliamentary motion recognizing Quebec as a "nation", but also describing 400 years of "oppression" and resistance of francophones in Canada.
French politicians and the population at large are usually sympathetic to Quebec for cultural, linguistic and historical reasons. There is a cultural attraction in France towards Quebec, similar to, for example, the cultural attraction existing in Britain towards Canada, the United States or Australia. Since support for sovereignty is around 50% in Quebec (normally within 5%), France is very careful to be neutral on that sensitive question.
The French Foreign Office motto concerning Quebec "national question" is "non-ingérence et non-indifférence" ("no interference and no indifference"), which epitomizes the official position of the French State. In other words, as long as the Quebec people vote to stay within Canada, France will officially support the Canadian Federation the way it is. That is why bilateral relations between both governments (Canada and France) have been so strong for many years. Similarly, Canada supports and even encourages the special institutional ties that exist between Quebec and France (annual meetings of both Heads of governments in either country; very dense university and research co-operation; administrative agreements; etc).