Big business offices flee from Catalonia

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Sabadell recently announced it was shifting its headquarters out of Catalonia. AFP

Montreal (AFP) – The flight of banks and big businesses from Catalonia after the region of Spain voted for independence is familiar to many in Quebec who once suffered similar economic turmoil while flirting with secession from Canada.

Several companies with headquarters in Catalonia including banks Sabadell and CaixaBank, as well as real estate business Colonial and toll-road company Abertis, recently moved their registered headquarters to other parts of Spain, saying they feared being cut off from the massive European market in the event of a breakup.

There are similarities between the situation in Catalonia and Quebec when it twice voted in 1980 and 1995 on whether to split from the rest of Canada, said University of Quebec professor Mario Polese.

“Business people rarely support this kind of secession, in part because they worry it will harm their bottom line,” he explained.

The sudden rise of the separatist Parti Quebecois, which swept to power in the Canadian province in 1976, spooked many in its English-speaking minority, which held undue control of Quebec’s top corporations.

“For anglophones, it was a huge shock to see a small party that was born only seven years earlier suddenly take power and promise to hold a referendum on Quebec independence,” he said.

A year later, the secessionists imposed a law mandating French be used in business, as elsewhere in the daily lives of a majority of Quebecers. Panic-stricken, “some 200,000 anglophones” left the province before and after the 1980 referendum, fearing Quebec would be isolated in North America and as linguistic tensions continued even after independence was rejected.

In 1977 and 1978, 263 head offices also left Montreal, according to the Quebec Employers Council, an association of the province’s largest companies.

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