It is possible to imagine the secret strategy session between agents of Bloc Québécois Leader Lucien Bouchard and Jacques Parizeau, his Parti Québécois counterpart. The two camps are worried: not about the fact that the United Nations has ranked Canada as the number 1 nation in the world, but about the fact that, despite half a year of federalist-bashing propaganda from Bouchard in Ottawa and Parizeau’s own efforts—amplified uncritically in much of the Quebec media—they have failed to boost support for their cause above traditional levels.
What to do? The Bouchard camp proposes going on the attack in the English media, with the express mission of stirring up opposition to Quebec aspirations. The federal Opposition leader approves the plan and books himself on a tour with the aim of creating a backlash to Quebec that will help the sovereignty cause as the provincial election approaches.
A fanciful scenario? It is one that Bouchard denied in an interview with Maclean’s, part of a cover package by Ottawa Editor Anthony Wilson-Smith, who was travelling with Prime Minister Jean Chrétien in Europe last week, and Senior Writer Marci McDonald. But it is a fact that, after many political and opinion leaders in English Canada harshly attacked Bouchard, support for sovereignty inched up in the latest Quebec poll by the authoritative Centre de recherches sur l’opinion publique. In March, CROP reported that 41 per cent of respondents were in favor, 49 per cent opposed, with 10 per cent undecided. In a new sounding taken in May, support for sovereignty was at 46 per cent, while 45 per cent were
opposed and nine per cent undecided.
A few points in public opinion do not a trend make, especially when the numbers are in line with the prevailing pattern of the past five years. But they do suggest that Chrétien’s strategy of trying to cool the situation—at least until the Quebec election—is the best course. And Chrétien also is wise to refuse to say what Ottawa’s response will be if the PQ is elected and manages to win a referendum, at least until the actual wording of the question is known.
And for Bouchard and Parizeau, there’s the rub. They know that support for their cause drops dramatically when Quebecers are asked if they favor separation or independence from Canada, sovereignty having a softer ring (keeping the Canadian dollar, federal defence I forces and the Rockies). That, presum| ably, is why Bouchard last week flatly reiz jected using the term “separation” in the ° referendum question, although he used the Sword repeatedly during his visit to Washington in March. Rather than continuing to lecture English-Canadians on their duties and responsibilities, Bouchard would do well to come clean with the people he cares about more. He should be prepared to join Parizeau in telling Quebecers, before the election, what the referendum question will be. Then there will be no mistake about the consequences of his plan to break up a country that is number 1 in the eyes of the world.
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