Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In US, Quebec Premier to Mute Secession Talk Lucien Bouchard Travels to the Northeast to Try to Convince Skeptical American Investors He's Got a Game Plan for Dealing with a Troubled Economy

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In US, Quebec Premier to Mute Secession Talk Lucien Bouchard Travels to the Northeast to Try to Convince Skeptical American Investors He's Got a Game Plan for Dealing with a Troubled Economy

Article excerpt

Rising slowly from his seat, Premier Lucien Bouchard, voice dripping with scorn, declares Quebec's right to hold a vote to secede from Canada and declare independence - whether or not Canadian courts see it as legal.

"It is our right, we will exercise it," he snaps to members of the Quebec National Assembly on May 22, jabbing the air before sitting down. Then the legislation to enshrine that sentiment quickly passes.

But this threat of a hard break with Canada, so familiar to Canadians, is hardly the message Mr. Bouchard will deliver to American investors, four Northeast governors, and journalists in a three-day trip that begins today.

Instead, a cool, calm Bouchard speaking excellent English, will tell Americans that secession would still leave Quebec with close ties to Canada and the United States. Vital trade links would remain unbroken. In short, businessmen weighing investment in Quebec and the global holders of Quebec bonds, have nothing whatsoever to worry about.

His alternating hot-cold rhetoric is carefully calculated to appeal at home and abroad, US and Canadian analysts say.

"He's a realist," says Charles Doran, director of the Center for Canadian Studies at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International studies in Washington. "He may want Quebec to secede - but knows he can't deal with Quebec's economic problems alone. He will try hard to give confidence to the US business community, telling them they have nothing to fear about {Quebec's} economic destabilization."

Bouchard, who took office in January after a referendum on Quebec secession nearly lost last October, inherited from his predecessor, Jacques Parizeau, a $55 billion debt and and a stagnant economy. (Economists forecast just 1.3 percent real growth forecast this year.) Public and private capital investment in the province shrank 4.6 percent last year.

Even if Bouchard wanted to secede immediately, he has no choice but to try to calm the fears of foreign business jolted by the close vote on secession, analysts say. To rev up the provincial economy he must attract new investment.

Yet while he soothes Wall Street investors, Bouchard must also reassure separatist hard-liners within his Parti Quebecois (PQ), that he hasn't gone soft on secession.

"Both in New York and in Quebec, Bouchard portrays himself as a moderate - that's what he wants to strengthen," says Guy Laforest, a political scientist at Laval University in Quebec City. "Basically the ship of state has been turned in another direction {than secession.} He understands that a political campaign is the last thing Quebec needs right now. We need a government."

Unlike former premier Parizeau, Bouchard understands that Quebeckers must feel sure about their economy before they will vote for independence, analysts say. But such confidence is hardly inspired by unemployment over 11 percent and a $2. …

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