Separatist Leaders in Quebec Shift Their Focus

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Mon Apr 1 17:56:54 UTC 2002

Forwarded from the New York Times, April 1, 2002

           Separatist Leaders in Quebec Shift
           Their Focus to Stability


                MONTREAL, March 31

Leaders of the separatist Parti Quebecois, meeting now in a political
retreat, say they have no intention of calling a referendum to declare the
province's independence from Canada any time in the foreseeable future.

           Instead, the party that narrowly went down to defeat in
divisive separatist referendums in 1980 and 1995 is refocusing its
attention on holding onto its control of the province's government. In
another change of course, it is moderating its image by building bridges
with the English-speaking population and pressing the central government
for a greater share of federal spending.  The shift in tone and strategy
reflects a sharp decline in the party's popularity over the last several
months. Recent polls suggest that the party will have a tough time beating
back a challenge by the Liberal Party in the next elections, expected this
year or next.

           "We always said we won't hold a referendum if we know we'll
lose," Jean-Pierre Charbonneau, Quebec's provincial intergovernmental
affairs minister, told reporters last Wednesday. Mr. Charbonneau, who is a
close aide to Premier Bernard Landry, added, "There's no referendum
timetable in the short term."  Mr. Charbonneau's comments were taken as
particularly important by the Canadian news media because they came only a
day after Mr. Landry made a gesture of conciliation to English-speaking
community groups, which constitute his party's traditional opponents.

           Standing in front of the Canadian flag and speaking mainly in
English, he told 100 members of the Quebec Community Groups Network how
important the English language was to Quebec's drive for world markets.
He complimented the English speakers for having improved their French. He
also acknowledged the Anglophone community's opposition to his party's
separatist aspirations over the years, and almost seemed to concede that
moderation was the best course of action after all.

           "Some people are conservative by definition, and I'm not
against that," Mr. Landry told the members of the network, an umbrella
group of English-speaking community organizations.  "There must be a
conservative segment in every society in order to prevent going too fast,
to create an equilibrium."  Thousands of English speakers and many
businesses have left Quebec Province since the 1970's, when the separatist
party was elected to power and took controversial steps including limiting
access to English-language schools and reducing the presence of English on
street signs.

           Quebec has pressed hard to attract French-speaking immigrants
to promote the French language and culture, but the craving for
independence has ebbed in recent years.  Mr. Landry, who needs to assuage
a wing of his party that remains adamant about independence, says
sovereignty remains his ultimate goal, even if it is a distant one. He
says he would like to see a "Canada-Quebec union" that would be similar to
the relationship that France or Britain has with the European Union.

           But in recent months, Mr. Landry has changed course to save his
party's standing. He is pressing for a referendum to force Ottawa to
transfer more tax powers to the province.  The national Liberal government
has said it will not be bound by the results of such a referendum, but Mr.
Landry hopes to put the province's Liberal Party in an embarrassing
position of opposing local interests.  In another shift of emphasis, Mr.
Landry and other party leaders have talked recently about the need to
overhaul the provincial parliamentary system by holding elections at fixed
intervals and electing the premier directly rather than through
parliamentary vote.

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