[Editor's note, this article has been updated to provide more recent polling data from Quebec]
Despite the fact that one in six Quebecers consumes cannabis and a commonly-held belief that Quebec is one of Canada’s more liberal provinces, several opinion surveys from this year have shown that Quebecers are the least supportive of cannabis legalization. Pollsters have speculated this may be a result of Quebec’s insular media cycle and a tradition of animosity towards federal authority.
A survey by Manitoba-based research group NRG in March revealed Quebecers are the most likely to oppose legalization, with only 37 per cent of respondents being in favour. An IPSOS poll released one month later corroborated this trend. Only 53 per cent of Quebecers supported legalisation, the lowest percentage of all provinces surveyed. This showed a significant drop in support from an IPSOS survey two years earlier, when 60 per cent of the province were in favour.
A CROP survey ran in May after the unveiling of the federal pot plan specifically pitted the Quebec public against the rest of Canada and showed that only 40 per cent of Quebecers were in strongly or somewhat in favour of legalization, compared to 58 per cent of other Canadians.
Why then, are Quebecers consistently demonstrating such pessimism? According to the pollsters, there are several issues at play.
Alain Guiguère, CROP president, admitted that he was initially surprised at the result given that many of the social issues he has studied, from gay rights to abortion, have demonstrated Quebec’s “tolerant, open attitudes.”
However, the detailed breakdown of his findings demonstrated that Quebec’s low scores were consistently linked to the perceived health dangers of the drug. He said that audiences in English-speaking Canada are less preoccupied by health issues as they are more exposed to news coverage related to legalization in California, Oregon, Nevada and Washington. “While a health issue in Quebec, in English Canada it became banal,” he said.
Sébastien Dallaire, vice president at IPSOS Public Affairs, echoed his fellow pollster, asserting that the media cycle plays a large role in the seemingly counter-intuitive results. “Quebecers tend to be less exposed to national debates and more exposed to local debates,” he explained. He added that the Quebec media tends to focus more on provincial and local issues, and that inherent cultural, linguistic and political differences also play a role in distancing Quebecers’ opinions from the rest of the country.
According to Dallaire, the cannabis debate in Quebec has been more negative than the rest of Canada and focused on the reaction of the provincial government, the provincial stakeholders and the opposition party. Further afield, he said the debate has been “more balanced,” and related to how “there are no massive negative effects to what’s been happening in the United States.”
Montreal-based media analysis firm Influence Communications’ overview of local and national news coverage in 2016 included a list of which television stations were most cited in newspaper coverage last year. The results demonstrate how closed-circuited the Quebec press is. In Quebec, four of the six most cited stations are provincial, and in French: TVA, ICI Radio-Canada, TVA Sports, RDS. In Canada, four of the first six are international: NBC, Netflix, CBS and the BBC.
Andrew Enns of NRG said it was “not surprising to see different results coming out of Quebec,” something perhaps harking back to Quebec’s history and quest for self-determination.
He suggested that the province’s more relaxed approach to alcohol may have people worried that the same model would be applied to cannabis.
Convenience store chain Couche-Tard and the Societés d’Alcool de Quebec have both vocalised their desire to stock recreational cannabis, but no decisions will be made until a series of province-wide public consultations are held in August and September.
Marc-Boris St. Maurice, co-founder of Quebec’s Bloc Pot political party, said that while Quebecers are not opposed to marijuana as substance (according to the Quebec provincial statistics agency (15.2 per cent of the province consumed cannabis either regularly or occasionally in 2014 and 2015) they are concerned that about “the way it is being rolled out.” According to him, distrust of the federal government feeds this phenomenon.
He is hopeful that the polls will switch back, adding that “polls are just a snapshot in time.”
Featured image via Wikipedia.
Updated July 19 2017.