Quebec election puts cause of separatism on life support
By Randall Palmer and Louise Egan
OTTAWA (Reuters) - With the crushing defeat suffered by the Parti Quebecois (PQ) in Monday's provincial election, Canadians are once again wondering aloud whether voters have finally buried the decades-old nationalist dream of an independent Quebec.
Most Quebec watchers insist that it's too early to write the obituary, pointing out that the sovereignty party has suffered setbacks before. But at best the PQ appears to be on life support, having taken its lowest share of the vote in the predominantly French-speaking province since its first campaign in 1970.
"It is very difficult to figure out how it can actually get to the finish line," University of Montreal political scientist Pierre Martin said.
Anti-separatist Liberals won a convincing majority of seats in the provincial assembly. That means no referendum on independence - a wrenching experience that the province weathered in 1980 and 1995 - for at least four years, and perhaps much longer.
That assurance of stability, combined with a more pro-business program than the outgoing Parti Quebecois minority government, should provide an economic fillip for a province that has faced some of Canada's biggest economic challenges.
In recent years, under the PQ government and its Liberal predecessor, Quebec's economy has turned in a lackluster performance, and private-sector job creation has lagged. Its 49 percent ratio of net debt to gross domestic product is the highest of any Canadian province.
REFERENDUM ON A REFERENDUM
Economic issues were not front and center during the campaign. The vote turned into a referendum on a referendum - that is, on whether the PQ would launch a plebiscite on leaving Canada if it won a majority of seats. Continued...