CANADA

Dodging the bullet

The PQ rules out a spring vote

BARRY CAME April 10 1995
CANADA

Dodging the bullet

The PQ rules out a spring vote

BARRY CAME April 10 1995

Dodging the bullet

The PQ rules out a spring vote

With scarcely a blush, Quebec Premier Jacques Parizeau capitulated last week, surrendering at long last to the pressure of public opinion. After weeks of speculation, the Parti Québécois leader tacitly acknowledged the failure of his government’s multimillion-dollar effort to sell independence to the province’s electorate. “Quebecers are not now ready to vote for sovereignty,” he told a gathering of young PQ followers as he pointed to a succession of polls showing support for the separatist option stalled below 45 per cent. Faced with those numbers, the premier all but ruled out a referendum this spring, dropping a broad hint that the vote, which he has repeatedly promised for 1995, will not take place until the fall at the earliest.

Any lingering doubts were erased the following day by Parizeau’s deputy, vicepremier Bernard Landry. “I don’t want to be second-in-command of the Light Brigade,” Landry remarked, likening the outcome of a referendum this spring to the disaster

that awaited the ill-fated British cavalry unit that was cut down when it charged into Russian guns during the Crimean War. “Our troops don’t want to be led to the slaughterhouse, but we want to keep the pressure on,” continued Landry, onetime officer in the reserves. “We won’t lead our supporters— and Quebec—on the road to disaster.”

Both Parizeau and Landry expressed hope that independence might find more support among voters next fall. Others, however, are not so sure. “What’s going to change between spring and autumn?” Mario Dumont, the young leader of the centrist Parti Action Démocratique, acidly inquired. “A good summer for the Expos?”

What indeed? The PQ’s strategists are

counting heavily on three factors. First, they are planning yet another information blitz, bombarding already beleaguered Quebecers with more pro-sovereignty pamphlets and media advertising. They also hope that Quebecers will be more annoyed with the federal government by next fall, once Ottawa’s austerity program begins to bite. Finally, they continue to anticipate a miscue in the rest of the country, some overt manifestation of anti-Quebec sentiment that would ignite the kind of passions that flared in the wake of the Brockville flag-stomping incident during the 1990 Meech Lake debate.

in the rest of the country, some overt manifestation of anti-Quebec sentiment that would ignite the kind of pas sions that flared in the wake of the Brockville flag-stomp ing incident during the 1990 Meech Lake debate.

If events do not unfold as the PQ hopes, however, Pan zeau might find himself fac ing a more serious dilemma come autumn. While no one close to the premier is yet willing to suggest it, there are already murmurs within his party suggesting that even next fall might be too

If events do not unfold as the PQ hopes, however, Pari« zeau might find himself facg ing a more serious dilemma % come autumn. While no one § close to the premier is yet I willing to suggest it, there 5 are already murmurs within his party suggesting that even next fall might be too early to put the independence question to a vote. That raises the distinct possibility that Parizeau may have to find a way to wiggle out of his firm pledge to hold the referendum by the end of this year.

BARRY CAME in Montreal