Quebec votes no, but try again Election result: Separatism rejected but separatists empowered to keep issue alive.

December 03, 1998

WHOEVER wanted closure on the issue of Quebec independence from the provincial election Monday was sorely disappointed. Separatism is rejected for now, but separatists remain in charge.

Their long-range goal is clear. The issue remains on Canada's agenda for the next five years, no matter how this exasperates Canadians in the other nine provinces.

Quebecers are less enamored of separation from Canada as their business class grows, their contribution to national leadership expands and the advantages of Canadian citizenship are reaffirmed. Just less than 43 percent of the voters backed the Parti Quebecois (PQ), which favors separation.

Quebecers admire the charismatic provincial Premier Lucien Bouchard. Many voting for his PQ want his leadership maintained in provincial affairs, but would vote against separation in a third such referendum.

Slightly more Quebecers voted for the opposition Liberal Party, but they were bunched in districts while PQ supporters were evenly spread, with the PQ winning 75 of the 125 seats in Quebec's National Assembly. A third party, catering to younger voters and favoring greater autonomy, but not separation, won 11 percent of the vote.

This is a personal setback for the Quebec Liberal Party leader, Jean Charest, who gave up federal politics to save federation in Quebec. He worked to revive the Conservative Party after its destruction in the federal election of 1993, but quit to lead Quebec Liberals. He is a young political talent who has tried but failed to save Canadian institutions at both the federal and provincial level.

Mr. Bouchard hopes to balance Quebec's budget and restore its damaged health services. He will not bring a referendum on independence until he has created conditions in which it might carry. But he will not abandon the idea, which Canadians elsewhere are tired of hearing about.

Harping on Quebec's claims to special treatment brings out the worst in English-speaking Canadians. Mr. Bouchard can only hope their responses will provoke more Quebecers to favor independence. That is not likely, but Quebecers on Monday were willing to let him keep the subject open.

Pub Date: 12/03/98

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