Quebec Separatist Finds New Pulpit CANADA, LOOK OUT

Article excerpt

LUCIEN BOUCHARD will soon become Canadian unity's biggest problem.

The fiery orator, who came within an eyelash of rallying Quebeckers to separate from Canada, is slated to become Quebec's new premier.

Undaunted by the narrow vote against independence Oct. 30, Mr. Bouchard says his goal is still to make Quebec a nation. Smiling and relaxed, Bouchard this week accepted the call of the Parti Quebecois (PQ) - Quebec's governing party - to become the province's premier.

"The fundamental objective of the Parti Quebecois remains sovereignty," said Bouchard. "We've never been so close."

His move to Quebec City poses both complex new problems and some opportunities for separatist forces.

He has promised another referendum on separation, probably by April 1997. When asked by reporters if Canada could come up with an offer to woo him and Quebec to stay within the federation, he was intransigent. "No, it's not possible," he said. "I am a sovereigntist."

Bouchard's decision follows Quebec Premier Jacques Parizeau unexpected Oct. 31 resignation after the referendum's defeat the day before.

Bouchard excels in his current role of gadfly to Prime Minister Jean Chretien in the House of Commons. But Bouchard so far has enjoyed mostly appointed government posts; some say he is popular partly because he has not had to make many publicly unpopular choices. Will he excel in the arguably harder role of governing and cutting budgets?

With Quebec's deficit projected at $2.9 billion this fiscal year, second-worst deficit among the provinces, Bouchard will be obliged to chop deeply. Such cuts could fray the PQ coalition by alienating public-employee labor unions cultivated by Parizeau.

"There are some in the PQ who would prefer to protect Bouchard from having to make the sorts of tough spending cuts that might make him less popular," says Bruce Campbell, an Ottawa-based political consultant. "They would rather have had him as a heavy hitter stepping in fresh during the next referendum."

Bouchard acknowledged that all would not be sweetness and light as the province gets its fiscal house in order. But some say his popularity may not suffer because Bouchard laid the groundwork during the recent referendum campaign for blaming coming hardships on Ottawa. Every "sparrow that falls in Quebec" will be blamed on federal government cuts, Mr. Campbell says.

Bouchard's move could undermine the separatist cause in one subtle, but significant way. He leaves behind the Bloc Quebecois (BQ), a group of 52 separatists who have been the official opposition party in Canada's House of Commons in Ottawa since the fall of 1993. …