IN something of an electoral idiosyncrasy, the French-speaking Canadian province of Quebec voted Sept. 12 for an ardently separatist government - but one that most voters in Quebec hope won't succeed in separating them from Canada!
We were not overly enthused with the platform of Quebec's winning candidate, Jacques Parizeau of the Parti Qucois, who will become the new premier of the province. If elected, Mr. Parizeau vowed to immediately begin pushing for a referendum in 10 months' time to separate Quebec from its 127-year-old confederation with Canada. Too often during the race it seemed the emotion and sentiment of the candidate outweighed harder questions such as the economic future of an independent Quebec, the status of native and minority populations in a new state, and just what borders Quebec could expect to defend.
But the strong showing Sept. 12 of the Liberal Party, led by Premier David Johnson, may undercut Parizeau's platform. Parti Qucois defeated the Liberals by a margin of 45 percent to 44 percent - not a resounding victory. This is to the good. Now perhaps the new party will have to work at fixing the Quebec economy, which is dealing with double-digit inflation. It will be up to journalists in Montreal and members of the Liberal Party to keep Quebec's new government honest. Focus must be kept on problems of governance, housing, health care, and relations with Ottawa - and the separatists not be allowed to blame all deficiencies on federal Canada.
Polls now show Quebeckers favor staying with Canada by a margin of 60 percent to 40 percent. But in recent years, in times of anger with other Canadian provinces, and of florid Francophonic rhetoric, the margin has closed to 50-50. What should not be dismissed is the possibility that Parizeau can create propaganda and ``incidents'' that will give him an opportunity to inflame sentiment in Quebec. Other Canadian provinces express irritation with Quebec's constant demands in Ottawa, and this has been used by Francophones to great advantage for their cause.
Globally, the current trend toward ethnic separation and identity cannot be underplayed. Quebec is no longer under the sway of such popular anti-separatists as former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. Should Parizeau find the going rough, he may revert to a strategy that makes his party's political survival dependent on separation. That could get nasty.