This is the time of year when it seems as if all of Canada is heading south. Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau and opposition Progressive Conservative leader Brian Mulroney are both in Florida. Cabinet members and legislators with their families are on the beaches of California, the Caribbean, and elsewhere for a week or so of winter vacationing. Thousands of other Canadians are doing the same - eager to escape the Arctic chill that has Canada in its grasp.
But there are other Canadians who have gone south more or less permanently. Many of them, however, are not just fleeing those cold Arctic winds. Take French-speaking Quebeckers. Perhaps 500,000 of them have moved to Florida and California in the past generation because of political and economic uncertainties in their largely French-speaking province. While some are retirees , others, although still espousing the uniqueness of French culture in their native province, simply saw greater opportunity for themselves in the United States.
This phenomenon is obviously changing the demographic and political face of Quebec. The provincial government says the French-speaking population has stabilized at 5 million, is not growing, and may actually be declining slightly. Those Quebeckers who favor separatism from the rest of the Canadian union are, as a result, increasingly hard pressed to win support for the concept.
Canadian leaders trying to prevent separatism are at the moment sharing beaches in Florida with Quebeckers who, if at home, might be supporting separatism.