What Quebec's independence referendum can tell us about Brexit

The UK does not have the monopoly on referendums — in 1995 Quebec came close to voting for independence from Canada.

The vote, the second since 1980, was won by the narrowest of margins by the “remain” camp, who got 50.58% of the vote in the French-speaking province.

While Canada avoided a Quexit (I could not resist), the province was hit by some of the same issues as the UK faces post-Brexit vote: namely, a starkly divided nation, and uncertainty (the close Quebec vote meant many feared another referendum).

Dax DaSilva is the founder and CEO of Lightspeed, a tech company based in Montreal, Quebec. He was in London recently promoting the launch of its new cloud-based point of sale system for retailers and restaurateurs.

So what insight can DaSilva bring to the future of post-Brexit Britain? On the division point, he says we need a strong leader.

“There have been many, many stages to the healing process,” says DaSilva of Quebec.

“There have been many elections where separatist parties were elected for a period of time. But I the current sentiment among the population is we’re also proud to be Canadian. That’s evolved over time.

“Sometimes that takes a leader, whether provincially or nationally — take Justin Trudeau [the current Canadian Prime Minister]. He is a Montrealer from Quebec. But also he and his father really believed in unity and bringing the nation together. Sometimes it takes a leader to really articulate that well and represent it.”

It remains to be seen whether new Conservative prime minister Theresa May, a “Remain” voter, will be the leader the UK needs to bring the country together.

Lightspeed Dax DasilvaLightspeedLightspeed founder and CEO Dax DaSilva.

On the uncertainty point, DaSilva says: “What you’re hearing in relation to Brexit a lot is mega-corporations, banks, are looking at their options as a result of the vote and that may or may not happen. Montreal went from being the financial and commercial capital of Canada in the 1970s, to playing second-fiddle to Toronto.”

JPMorgan and UBS have both warned they may have to move thousands of jobs overseas if Britain cannot negotiate passporting rights and an internal briefing document from Deutsche Bank seen by BI shows the bank is expecting a flight of banking talent out of the UK.

But DaSilva adds: “It’s unlikely that London as a huge centre for world finance is going to see the same exodus of finance that Montreal to Toronto saw.”

He also thinks there could be a silver lining for small businesses based here, saying: “I think it will for sure stimulate local business.

“One thing that we’ve seen that’s developed over the last 30 years since our first referendum, the things that are very, very strong in Quebec and Montreal are independent business, tech, which also has that independent spirit, and culture. Local business has local customers and it’s business as usual.”

DaSilva is hoping his company’s retailing software can take advantage of this predicted boom. Lightspeed currently handles over $12 billion (£9.1 billion) of transactions for over 36,000 businesses across 100 countries each year.

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