COVER

‘QUEBEC CANNOT BE BLAMED'

GLEN ALLEN June 29 1992
COVER

‘QUEBEC CANNOT BE BLAMED'

GLEN ALLEN June 29 1992

‘QUEBEC CANNOT BE BLAMED'

COVER

His political style—one that has often served him well during his 12 years as Quebec premier—is to wait on events, avoiding decisions and declarations that might later be regretted. Not surprisingly, that strategy has also marked Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa’s response to increasingly impatient critics who have wanted him to take a firm stand on the current constitutional discussions, which Quebec has boycotted. But in a rare encounter with journalists in Quebec City on Thursday, Bourassa appeared more prepared to show his hand—and the outline of his summer political calendar. He said that he expected a federal constitutional offer to Quebec by mid-July, after which he would consult his Liberal party caucus, the party executive and—in a convention expected in August— the party itself. But Bourassa also issued a warning: because the current talks have shown the rest of Canada to be seriously divided on several issues, he declared, “Quebec cannot be blamed” in the event of failure. Although he added that Quebec must still gain a veto over future constitutional changes, he said that many of Quebec’s demands had been satisfied.

By partially breaking his silence and issuing that guarded note of optimism, the Quebec premier is staking out his position—and readying himself for the battles ahead. Quebec nationalists, who will take to the streets this week in the province’s annual St. Jean Baptiste Day festivities, are certain to brand any federal constitutional offer to Quebec as inadequate. Members of the more militant youth wing of Bourassa’s own Liberal party have also expressed dismay over the direction of the current constitutional talks. Liberal youth president Mario Dumont told Maclean’s last week that an offer to Quebec has to provide the province more powers than under current proposals. Otherwise, he de“I don’t think it will get far.” And the ultimate fight, for the hearts and minds of the Quebec electorate, still lies ahead—a referendum on the province’s future that must be held by Oct. 26.

Last week, Quebec’s chief eiectorai officer, Pierre Côté, began leasing space for referendum headquarters in each of the province's 125 ridings. For his part, Bourassa reiterated earlier statements ruling out a referendum on sovereignty. Instead, he said, Quebecers will probably be asked to vote on the acceptability of a federal constitutional offer or some form of renewed federalism. In the fight for Quebec public opinion, Bourassa may enjoy a powerful advantage—internal federal government polls indicate that, at the moment, two-thirds of Quebecers are prepared to follow their premier’s lead. But with a federal constitutional offer still shrouded in uncertainty, there are clearly no guarantees that Bourassa can continue to count on that support.

GLEN ALLEN in Ottawa