Volume 92, Issue 50

Wednesday, December 2, 1998

raw deal


Referendum's still in the crystal ball

By Mark Brown
Gazette Staff

Another Quebec referendum? That's what some Quebecers expect before the end of Lucien Bouchard's mandate – but it is not all bad news for federalists.

While Jean Charest, leader of the Quebec Liberal party, who was toted as the saviour of Canada, lost the election, he may be better off in the long run, said Douglas Long, associate professor of political science at Western. "It may not be a good time to be premier of Quebec," he said, referring to some of the tough economic issues Quebec must address.

Paul Nesbitt-Larking, assistant professor of political science at Huron College, agreed Charest might be better off being out of the public eye for a while. "If he can shake off that Captain Canada thing, then he has a chance – because it doesn't go over well with Quebecers."

Despite the strong support for the federalist cause, both Long and Nesbitt-Larking said they believe there will be another referendum within the next two to four years.

Nesbitt-Larking said he suspects Bouchard, leader of the Parti Quebecois, will have to hold another referendum in the next three to four years or risk alienating his supporters. He added Bouchard will be monitoring public opinion in Quebec to determine winning conditions. "If [the next referendum] is a 'no' vote, it would be a very long time before another referendum."

Bouchard has shown some signs of softening on the sovereignty issue by showing interest in the ongoing Social Union talks, explained Nesbitt-Larking. The Social Union talks are examining the possibility of giving the provinces more discretionary powers over social programs.

"I think the intention to hold a referendum is there," Long said. He added Bouchard will let the referendum question go quiet for quite some time, at least until he sees some economic improvement.

"I was disappointed, but not surprised," said Shruti Owerie, a fourth-year political science student at Western and native of Quebec. She said she was pleased her hometown on the south shore of Montreal voted Liberal.

Owerie agreed Charest's loss was not the end of the federalist cause in Quebec. "A lot of people, especially the francophones, saw [Charest] as an outsider," she said.

She added she also noticed a softening of the sovereigntist approach, as both Bouchard and Mario Dumont, leader of the Action Democratique-Equipe, addressed audiences in English following Monday night's election. "This is not something that would have happened four years ago," she said.

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Copyright The Gazette 1998