A Quebec vote on separation unlikely

Bouchard stays, but voters send a 'no' message on splitting from Canada.

Quebec has voted "yes" for its sovereigntist government but "no" for another referendum on separation from Canada - at least for now.

The independence-minded Parti Quebecois government of Premier Lucien Bouchard has been returned to office with a solid majority in the National Assembly. But the opposition Liberals, adamant in their desire to keep Quebec in Canada, actually won the the larger share of the popular vote - 43.7 percent, against 42.7 percent for the PQ.

Because Quebec's Anglophones, a core Liberal constituency, are geographically concentrated in Montreal and the so-called Eastern Townships, the Liberals can win the popular vote and still fail to win a parliamentary majority.

The mixed message of the Nov. 30 poll was not lost on Mr. Bouchard. His government had won respect for budget-cutting success, but he said, "I respect the signal you send by choosing candidates who reflect your attachment to Canada."

Prime Minister Jean Chretien was quick to claim victory for Canadian federalism, calling the result a sign of "support for Canada." But other analysts noted that the voters' implicit "no" to a referendum was not "no" forever, and that Liberals would need to come up with some constitutional initiative for defining Quebec's place in Canada. Jean Charest, the Liberal leader, had campaigned on an anti-referendum platform.

The elections were watched across Canada. Newfoundland Premier Brian Tobin said the results reflected Quebeckers' "doubts on independence" and a "desire to maintain an adversarial relationship with the federal government."

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