Quebec's economic problems put damper on secessionist moves

Quebec's troubled economy is likely to put a brake on any attempts by Canada's only French-speaking province to go it alone - at least for the time being.

Quebec's premier Rene Levesque is so infuriated that the province was not consulted over the new compromise Canadian Constitution that he earlier warned that Quebec will never accept the Constitution, and threatened to call for a referendum to test separatist sentiments in his province.

But the outspoken Quebec leader may have second thoughts now about taking any drastic steps to dissociate his province from the rest of English-speaking Canada.

After successfully campaigning earlier this year on his administration's record, Levesque recently introduced a budget which demonstrated that the province is in much more trouble than Quebeckers realized.

The province is running much larger deficits than had been anticipated which is affecting Quebec's borrowing powers. The effect is to jeopardize Levesque's reputation as a master of good government.

That means Levesque cannot safely call an election in search of a mandate to separate. And recent public opinion polls indicate the outcome of a refendum on the issue is equally uncertain.

Federal officials now expect Levesque to begin a long-term public relations campaign aimed at convincing Quebeckers that they have been pushed into the political cold by English Canada.

In the short term, at least, it appears that Quebec has no choice but to accept the terms of the proposed Constitution, once it is passed by Parliament.

Within days Canadians will know if this new constitution will to be the crowning glory of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's 13-year career or prove instead to be a crown of thorns for the country.

In Parliament and across the country Canadians are now debating the merits of a constitution which would isolate the country's single French-speaking province , and which has aroused strong criticism for inadequately protecting women's and aboriginal rights.

Instead of what was called ''the world's best charter of rights'', Canadians are now being asked to accept the truncated version which the provincial premiers demanded in return for their support of the federal plan to patriate the British North America Act of 1867 from Britain.

The dissenting premiers refused to accept the original charter fearing it would allow Ottawa to usurp provincial powers. But the prospect that 18 months of bargaining may only produce a badly flawed constitution has sparked a rousing debate here which is expected to force the federal and provincial governments to alter the accord they signed here Nov. 5.

Aside from Quebec's opposition, women and minority groups are loudly and bitterly accusing the federal government of using human rights as bargaining chips.

Their complaints, and the threat that Quebec will again attempt to split the country, are major concerns for a weary prime minister who has despaired of his own work.

The dispute over women and minority groups has been tempered somewhat by the recent mutual agreement by both the Federal and provincial governments to entrench the rights of both. The minority groups, such as Indians and Eskimoes, have not yet signified their willingness to accept. And so far the 1.3 million aboriginal peoples of Canada have not been consulted.

Trudeau's determination not to step on provincial toes on the rights of women and aboriginal peoples did not extend to Quebec.

Trudeau recently proposed two important changes to the accord aimed at putting Levesque on the defensive and at reestablishing the federal government as the voice of French Canadians.

Aa the accord is now written, a minority language provision known as the ''Canada clause'' will be imposed on Quebec instead of the more general rule accepted by the other provinces.

While nine provinces are required to provide minority language education for where numbers warrant, Quebec is only required to supply English education for Canadian children whose parents were educated in English. That means Quebec can force all foreign immigrants to educate their children in French.

And in an even more blatant attempt to back Levesque into a tight political corner, the federal government has rewritten the accord to provide federal funding for provinces that opt out of future constitutional changes affecting language or culture.

Trudeau can now boast to Quebeckers that the Constitution will give them access to French schools across Canada and at the same time protect their culture at home.

Levesque accused Ottawa of opening the doors to massive English migration into Quebec.

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