Quebec's Separatists Unite to Seek Vote On Splitting Canada

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

QUEBEC'S feuding separatists have struck an alliance that they hope will persuade enough "soft" nationalists to vote for independence from Canada in a referendum expected this fall.

In a deal slated to be signed yesterday in Quebec City, Jacques Parizeau who leads the separatist provincial Quebec Party (PQ), agreed to allow two other separatist parties a voice in negotiating a political-economic union with Canada should Quebeckers vote "yes" to separation.

Together with the PQ, the Quebec Bloc, led by Lucien Bouchard, and the Quebec Democratic Action (ADQ) of soft nationalists, led by Mario Dumont, hope to win a majority in the referendum.

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A win would mean that Quebeckers would agree not only to independence from Canada within a year, but also a good-faith effort by Quebec to arrange economic and loose political ties with Canada during that time. The result, the separatists say, would be an arrangement between Quebec and Canada similar to that of the European Union's 15 nations.

The deal provides for Quebec to negotiate with Canada to create a council of ministers with an equal number of representatives from Quebec and Canada with authority over trade, the environment, and other areas; a Quebec-Canada Tribunal with authority to settle trade disagreements; and a parliamentary conference with delegates chosen by Canada's House of Commons and the Quebec National Assembly. Canada would have three-quarters of the members, Quebec one-quarter.

Allowing these links was difficult for Mr. Parizeau, a hard-liner who has maintained that Quebec's independence is not contingent upon ties with Canada. And it still isn't, he says, since voters will be saying "yes" to Quebec independence within a year whether or not Canada agrees to a new deal.

"People want us to make a proposal for a new partnership, and they told us to make this proposal in good faith," Parizeau told reporters Friday. "So let's do it."

Still, Parizeau was clearly forced to soften his position. And bringing the ADQ - which represents about 15 percent of Quebec voters - into the separatist fold is key.

Until a few months ago, support for independence was stuck at about 44 percent, when only outright independence was considered. But when asked about the choice of independence with a promise of economic association with the rest of Canada, a Leger and Leger poll last month showed that 51.4 percent of Quebeckers would vote for that kind of referendum question. Those extra votes come from the "soft" nationalists.

Even so, Parizeau probably would not have agreed to such a question if Mr. Bouchard had not threatened in April to withdraw his support. Faced with a disastrous split with Bouchard, Parizeau compromised. For Parizeau, the problem with the Bouchard-Dumont approach has always been that it bears a striking similarity to a plan defeated by Quebec voters in 1980.

A big reason for that defeat was English Canada's refusal even to consider such a deal. A key part of Parizeau's strategy since has been to give English Canada no veto over any referendum question. But Canada's refusal to negotiate an economic alliance with Quebec will simply prove Canada's lack of good faith and inflame separatist sentiment, improving the chances for independence, Bouchard says. Besides, Canada will eventually overcome resentment and negotiate simply out of financial self-interest, he adds.

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