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BOUCHARD HEADING FOR LANDSLIDE VICTORY IN QUEBEC AS A MANAGER, NOT A REVOLUTIONARY

Quebec's separatist Premier Lucien Bouchard is poised to win a landslide victory in Monday's provincial election.

But since Bouchard based his campaign on delaying any future vote on independence until such a vote can be won, most Quebeckers are voting for Bouchard as a solid manager of their affairs, not as a revolutionary.

A poll conducted by the Montreal-based firm, Leger & Leger, shows Bouchard's separatist Parti Quebecois is favored by 46 percent of Quebec's voters compared with 42 percent for the opposition Liberal Party headed by Jean Charest and 11 percent for Mario Dumont's Action Democratique.

While the Parti Quebecois lead seems slender, the poll also shows it has a commanding lead of nearly 2 to 1 among the ethnic French voters who make up the majority of voters in 70 of Quebec's 125 districts.

Quebeckers vote for a candidate in their district, and the party that wins the most seats in the Provincial Legislature forms the government for up to five years. When the election began, the Parti Quebecois held 77 seats against 47 for the Liberals and one for the Action Democratique.

Charest, who was drafted from his role as leader of the national Progressive Conservative Party to lead Quebec's Liberals, began the campaign with a slim lead.

But as the campaign wore on, his lead wore down and eventually disappeared. Now, instead of contemplating what kind of leader he would make, most observers are already writing his political obituary.

Charest, mused one of his former colleagues who asked not to be identified, is "the nicest guy nobody ever voted for."

Bouchard, meanwhile, is already mapping out his second term and attempting to mollify the concerns of English-speaking Canada.

"I am not the great Satan," Bouchard said. "I'm just a normal Quebecker . . . who is trying to make things better for Quebec in the future."

He added that his campaign is not directed at English Canada. "There is no bad mood, there is no bad feeling against English Canada," he said.

During his campaign, Bouchard brilliantly undercut the man most English Canadians believed would "slay the separatist dragon."

Charest launched his election battle by targeting the two issues he believed were Bouchard's weak spots -- health care and the threat of another vote on independence.

While his government had made deep cuts in the province's universal health care program to bring down Quebec's deficit, Bouchard quickly defused the issue by pledging to use the province's expected budget surplus to shore up health care.

With polls showing most Quebeckers tired of voting on the issue of separating from Canada after having cast ballots on the issue in 1980 and 1995, Charest hammered home the idea that a vote for Bouchard was a vote for another referendum.

But Bouchard quickly removed this club from the Liberal arsenal and proceeded to beat Charest over the head with it.

Bouchard pledged to hold another referendum only if "winning conditions" were present, allowing both pro- and anti-independence voters to feel comfortable about supporting him.

Once that message became clear, Bouchard pressed further into Charest's potential support by accusing him of abandoning Quebec by promising that if elected, he would put aside all issues concerning Quebec's place inside Canada while he worked to improve Quebec's economy.

In short, Bouchard turned his image from a man concerned with Quebec's past grievances to a man focused on a confident future, while Charest was left fighting the last referendum battle and never articulating a clear vision for his administration.

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