Future of Canada Turns on Quebec Swing Votes

Article excerpt

THE fight for Canada's future is under way and seems likely to be decided by a relatively small group of swing votes in predominantly French-speaking Quebec.

As Canadians prepare for a government-funded media barrage aimed at wooing them to vote "yes" on a new constitutional agreement in an Oct. 26 national referendum, there are signs that convincing Quebeckers to do so will be considerably more difficult than persuading those outside the province, pollsters and political insiders say.

While a national poll released Tuesday shows Canadians outside Quebec favor the new constitutional deal by more than 2-to-1, a close analysis of the percentages inside Quebec shows Premier Robert Bourassa's ruling Liberal Party has serious work to do to convince crucial swing voters the deal is a good one for Quebec.

Mr. Bourassa must also surmount opposition from the powerful youth wing of his own party, and the defection last week of prominent Quebec Liberal Party official Jean Allaire, author of the party's constitutional platform. Mr. Allaire's opposition has lent new credibility to separatist Parti Qucois (PQ) leaders' arguments that the deal falls far short of Quebec's demands.

"Quebeckers are being asked to support a constitutional agreement that Liberals and {members of the PQ}, sovereignists and federalists consider to be harmful to the future of Quebeckers and their interests," PQ leader Jacques Parizeau told Toronto daily Globe and Mail.

Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and the 10 provincial premiers, including Quebec's Bourassa, agreed to a deal that guarantees the survival of Quebec's French culture, shares power by creating an elected senate, grants Quebec permanent representation in the House of Commons at 25 percent, and grants self-government to Canada's 1 million indigenous people.

But Donna Dasko, vice president of the Toronto-based Environics Research Group, which conducted the recent national poll, says there is a distance to go before Quebeckers accept the deal. While 43 percent of those polled in Quebec this week said they would vote for the agreement, 39 percent would vote against, and 18 percent expressed no opinion. …