Leaving Canada: Separatists Crank Up the Heat in Quebec Polls Still Show a Majority in French-Speaking Province Want to Stay

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QUEBEC Premier Jacques Parizeau's separatist political machine is rumbling through the Quebec countryside, with volunteers campaigning door to door to convince Quebeckers that their province should become a nation.

After a summer spent carefully polling sentiments - for or against Quebec independence - Mr. Parizeau swung into gear last week with his big push to persuade Quebeckers to vote "yes" to a referendum that would lead to Quebec's separation from Canada.

The "yes" campaign kickoff on Aug. 15 came in Alma, a small French-speaking city in the heartland of Quebec separatism.

Standing next to Parizeau amid the cheers of 1,200 separatist supporters were Lucien Bouchard and 25-year-old Mario Dumont - two critical players in the campaign.

Mr. Bouchard heads the Bloc Quebecois, a group of 54 Quebec separatists in the House of Commons. While Parizeau is leader and key strategist, Bouchard is the most popular politician in the province and is widely considered the chief salesman for the "yes" side.

"We have no more alibis, no more excuses," Bouchard said in a rousing speech to the crowd. "We have tried every avenue {to fix the federal system}, and every time we have found a dead end. Sovereignty is the only door open to the future for Quebec."

Mr. Dumont's role is equally critical. As leader of the Action Democratique du Quebec (ADQ), he represents only about 5 percent of Quebec voters.

But these are crucial swing votes that while favoring more autonomy for Quebec also envision continued ties to Canada.

Dumont became a member of the separatist team June 12, after Parizeau and Bouchard convinced him that Parizeau's message of outright independence from Canada would be replaced by a less frightening proposal for independence that promises to try to form economic and political ties to Canada after independence - but does not guarantee them.

Dumont's youth, far from being a negative, deflects the charge that independence is now just the dream of older politicians like Parizeau - a cause that made sense 20 years ago when Francophone wages and education were low in Quebec, but not today when French is dominant.

Facing off against this dynamic trio are Prime Minister Jean Chretien and former Quebec Premier Daniel Johnson, now leader of the Liberal Party and the official opposition in Quebec's National Assembly.

Mr. Chretien is proving a tough opponent. A Quebecker who likes to call himself the "little guy from Shawinigan," after the town in his home district, he has historically not been very popular in Quebec. …