Quebec Liberals drub separatists, promise to boost business

If separatism wasn't already dead, it is now. The separatist Parti Qu'eb'ecois was soundly defeated in Monday's general election in the French-speaking province of Quebec.

The idea of a Quebec independent from the rest of Canada has become so unpopular that the Parti Qu'e-b'ecois ignored the issue. A splinter hard-core separatist party received less than 1 percent of the popular vote.

The victorious Liberal Party promises to run a more business-oriented government.

The Liberal Party won 99 of the 122 seats in the legislature, winning 56 percent of the popular vote, against 39 percent for the Parti Qu'eb'ecois.

But the Liberal leader, Robert Bourassa, suffered a personal defeat, losing his own seat in the National Assembly -- the Quebec legislature. The premier of the province, Pierre Marc Johnson, won his seat by only 344 votes.

Mr. Bourassa said he will seek a seat soon in a by-election. He will ask a sitting member in a Liberal stronghold to give up his seat in favor of the leader. ``I think I will have a wide choice of ridings [electoral districts],'' he said on election night.

Bourassa, an economist educated at Harvard and Oxford, will still lead the Liberals and will effectively run the provincial government. He called the win ``a great victory for Quebec, Canada, and change.'' And Bourassa promised to get down to business.

``We're confident we can make Quebec one of the most prosperous societies in North America,'' Bourassa said.

That type of promise has been heard from Bourassa before, during his first term as premier of Quebec, which began in 1970. At that time he had promised 100,000 new jobs for Quebeckers and was given the derogatory nickname ``Bob le Job'' by his political opponents.

One of Bourassa's major achievements as premier was the building of the James Bay hydroelectric project in northern Quebec. It turned out to be a valuable money earner for the provincial treasury, which exports electricity to the United States and other Canadian provinces.

His return to power, first as leader of the Liberal Party and now as head of the government, occurred because he is seen as the man who can get things done. Yet charisma is not Bourassa's strong suit, as even he admits. It was partly his poor image that cost him the election in 1976 when the Parti Qu'eb'ecois came to power.

This election campaign has been strange. The Parti Qu'e-b'ecois, sensing its unpopularity, ran with its leader. ``Avec Johnson'' (With Johnson) was the slogan, and Mr. Johnson's picture appeared on all posters. The Liberals, sensing the relative unpopularity of their leader, ran the party name on posters, without picture or mention of Bourassa.

Johnson is seen as the only reason his party did not take a worse beating at the polls. He had been premier for little more than two months, taking over from Ren'e Levesque, who built the Parti Qu'eb'ecois and was Premier of Quebec for nine years.

Johnson will now have to reshape his party. It is expected to stay nationalist but become more conservative, much like Johnson himself.

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