New Quebec premier talks business, not separation from Canada

Quebec's separatist Parti Qu'eb'ecois has a new leader who doesn't sound like a separatist. During the campaign for party leadership, Pierre Marc Johnson -- elected last Sunday -- spoke little of a separate Quebec. He did talk about the economy. ``I believe in a Quebec that works,'' he told the party's convention. Earlier in the campaign he told a business audience that he didn't believe in the state meddling in the economy.

Mr. Johnson, a doctor and a lawyer, has been a minister in Quebec's Cabinet for nine years. In addition to becoming the party's new leader, he also becomes premier of Quebec this week, replacing Ren'e L'evesque who resigned his leadership of the Parti Qu'eb'ecois (PQ) and his seat in Quebec's provincial legislature, the National Assembley.

Johnson is expected to move the party closer to the political center. And, though provincial elections are not scheduled until April 1986, there are party pressures to call an early election, perhaps next month.

The new premier will be sworn in almost 17 years to the day after his father, Daniel Johnson, left the same job. The elder Johnson led a conservative, nationalistic party called the Union Nationale. Many here think the new premier will try to turn the PQ into a new version of his father's party.

In 1976 the PQ was elected to lead the largely French-speaking province out of Canada. That rally was electric, with the dreams and ideals visible in the eyes and faces of the crowd. But those days have gone. It was an older and subdued crowd that elected Johnson.

Business is big in Quebec these days. The business school at the University of Montreal has more students that any in the country and they have been turning out in great numbers to attend rallies of the opposition Liberal Party.

Almost 97,000 people voted for the party's new leader with 58 percent opting for Johnson, under a new procedure which gives every member of the party a vote. The new voting system may have been why there was no excitement, no wheeling and dealing in the corridors. And it made for dull TV.

``It is supposed to be more democratic but I don't think it is,'' said Dalton Camp, a former president of the Conservative Party. ``This just isn't as dynamic as a convention filled with party delegates.''

Guy Bertrand, one of the PQ leadership candidates who favored separatism, received only 3 percent of the vote.

The dull convention, a 20-point lead in the polls by the Liberals, and a divided party mean tough work ahead for Johnson. His election may attract more voters to the PQ side, but observers say his more conservative views may put off traditional PQ supporters.

The next campaign has already started. The Liberals, under Robert Bourassa (premier of Quebec from 1970 to 1976), are running ads ridiculing the PQ's economic record. And after winning his party's leadership Sunday night, Johnson wasted no time in attacking the Liberals.

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