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Incumbent's Win in Quebec Would Propel Secession Issue

November 29, 1998| From Associated Press

MONTREAL — With the rest of Canada watching warily, Quebec voters will make a momentous choice Monday between an incumbent provincial leader who favors independence and an underdog challenger seeking to end the threat of secession.

If Premier Lucien Bouchard's Parti Quebecois wins the election, he has pledged to hold a vote on the province leaving Canada whenever he thinks that the separatists can win. Some militants in his party already have an unofficial motto: "A country for the year 2000."

Bouchard, though demonized in much of English-speaking Canada, is immensely popular in mostly French-speaking Quebec. The man with the difficult task of unseating him is Jean Charest, who left federal politics in March to become leader of the Quebec Liberal Party.

Charest, one of the few Canadian politicians who can match Bouchard's charisma, jumped ahead in early opinion polls and was hailed in other provinces as the potential savior of Canadian unity.

But Charest's lead evaporated, and poll after poll in recent days suggest the Parti Quebecois is poised to maintain a comfortable majority in the 125-seat legislature.

Bouchard has tried to calm anxiety in English-speaking Canada about the consequences of a Parti Quebecois victory.

"I'm not the Great Satan," he said Friday. "I like Canada. . . . But it happens in Quebec that some people like me think we would be much better off if we could manage our own things."

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