02/26/2013 06:42 am ET

Quebec No Longer Canada's Most Secular Province

TORONTO (RNS) A new poll suggests Quebecers are no longer among the least religious residents of Canada.

The reason? Quebecers are now slightly more likely to feel an "attachment to religion" than they have in previous years, while other Canadians are less likely to feel attached to religion, according to the Leger Marketing poll for the Association for Canadian Studies.

While Quebecers have tended to be "more averse to organized religion," the recent data suggest their "antipathy to religion may have bottomed," concluded the survey.

"Parts of Canada, notably out West, have seen drops in attachment and favorable sentiment towards religion that have rendered the Quebec difference, when it comes to this expression of identity, near insignificant," it added.

The poll suggested that 36 percent of Canadians said they are "very" or "somewhat" attached to religion, down from 39 percent two years ago. Religious attachment among Quebecers, meanwhile, rose from 26 percent to 34 percent over that time period. Older Canadians generally still feel attached to religion -- 52 percent of those 65 and older said they were "very" or "somewhat" attached.

Once staunchly Catholic, with the Roman Catholic Church involved in virtually every aspect of the province's social services, Quebec has become increasingly secular, and with one of the lowest birthrates in the world.

The online survey of 2,200 Canadians was conducted last November, well before news that Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the former archbishop of Quebec, was among the front-runners to replace Pope Benedict XVI, who will resign on Thursday (Feb. 28).

Jack Jedwab, executive director of the Association for Canadian Studies, speculated to Postmedia News that last October's elevation of 17th-century aboriginal woman Kateri Tekakwitha to sainthood may have given Catholicism a slight boost in Quebec, where she spent the last days of her life.

The survey has an error margin of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.