APRIL 23, 1996
Lucien Bouchard, the new premier of the Quebec Province, who won a January election on a platform calling for the Province to become independent from Canada, talks with Charles Krause. Bouchard discusses the future of a "Free Quebec".
CHARLES KRAUSE: Campaigning side by side, Lucien Bouchard and Quebec's former premier, Jacques Parizeau, led the fight for an independent Quebec during last fall's referendum. The vote was close, closer than anyone expected. The Separatists lost by only 54,000 votes out of the nearly 5 million votes that were cast. Indeed, because the outcome was so close, many analysts thought Parizeau and Bouchard had set the stage for another referendum a year or two from now they might well win.
SPOKESMAN: --decision desk calling for a "no" victory numerically tonight. It's going to be a squeaker--
CHARLES KRAUSE: But then Parizeau made a historic blunder. In a bitter concession speech on election night, he blamed what he called money, and the ethnic vote for the Separatists' narrow defeat. Parizeau's remark was attacked as racist, undemocratic, and an assault on Quebec's anglo business establishment, a thinly-veiled threat aimed at those who'd voted "no" to independence from English-speaking Canada. Within 24 hours, Parizeau was forced by the furor over his remarks to announce his resignation of Quebec's premier. But the damage was done. Many anglo Quebecers have put their homes up for sale, planning to move because they say they no longer feel welcome in Quebec.
Meanwhile, many of the skyscrapers in Montreal's once vital downtown are half empty as major corporations flee the continuing economic and political turmoil. It was against this backdrop of recrimination and growing uncertainty that Bouchard replaced Parizeau as Quebec's premier last January. Until then, he'd led Quebec's Separatist delegation to Canada's federal parliament in Ottawa. A bilingual lawyer with an American wife, Bouchard is nonetheless a dedicated Separatist who said there will be another referendum on sovereignty sometime before the end of the century.
SPOKESMAN: Ladies and gentlemen, the premier of Quebec, Mr. Lucien Bouchard.
CHARLES KRAUSE: But the new premier has also tried to calm the turbulent political waters he inherited from his predecessor.
PREMIER LUCIEN BOUCHARD, Quebec: Someone has to make the first move. That's why I'm here.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Last month, he told a group of prominent anglo Quebecers that they have no reason to fear for their future even if Quebec does become an independent country. He's also tried to persuade leading corporate executives that Quebec is and will remain a good place to invest and do business. But so far, Bouchard's efforts, while generally appreciated, have at best met with mixed results. The economy continues to bleed.
Meanwhile, a recent poll found that fully 60 percent of Quebec's non-French-speaking population favors partitioning the province into ethnic and linguistic enclaves. The argument is that if French Quebec votes to withdraw from Canada, then those who wish to speak English should have the right to withdraw from Quebec. The partitionist's growing strength is yet another sign of the increased polarization and tension that Lucien Bouchard will have to deal with now that he's Quebec's new premier. We interviewed Bouchard in his Quebec City office.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Premier Bouchard, thank you very much for joining us. It's been six months since the referendum, and I wonder if you could explain to Americans why this issue is still alive and why you've said there'll be yet another referendum before the end of the century.
LUCIEN BOUCHARD, Premier, Quebec: Well, as you know, it was a very intense debate where 94 percent of people express an opinion, and it's almost unheard in Quebec's democracy to see such a high participation, and it was a close call. Actually, you know, virtually no winner, no loser, because the federalists won by a very small margin, 50.6 percent of the vote, so that the sovereignist got 49.4 percent. That's why it's so intense and there is--the impact is, is still here, although we're trying now to transform the situation into a more positive one. We know that there will be a referendum when you have such a result. It's written on the wall that at some point ahead there will be a rematch.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Up until now, English Canada has gone along with the idea that Quebec can unilaterally decide its own future within Canada, but that's begun to change. How do you respond to Prime Minister Chretien and others who say that next time all Canadians, not just Quebecers, should have a say in what happens here?
PREMIER BOUCHARD: My answer is democracy. Quebec is very much a democratic society. We think that Quebecers are people, different people from the rest of Canada. We have the culture. We have a common language, which is different from Canada's. We have a territory. We have an economy. We have everything needed to--we have all the ingredients of a people, of a nation, and we all feel, and this is very much shared by all Quebecers, most Quebecers, either federalists or sovereignists, there is something special here, a collectivity, distinct collectivity with the flavor and the nature and the aspirations of a people, of a nation. That's why Mr. Chretien has a big problem to say things like that. I can't imagine that in the day after a "yes" vote, a referendum on sovereignty, that Canada, democratic country, with a reputation for democracy and respect of the will of people, would try to stop the accession of Quebec to sovereignty, why it is based on such a democratic process, it's not possible. It is not in the tradition and the culture of Canada to do a thing like that.
CHARLES KRAUSE: But what about the prime minister and others who are beginning to say that perhaps they're not willing--that English Canada should not allow Quebec to leave all on its own?
PREMIER BOUCHARD: They have no way to stop us. They have no way. We pay taxes to Ottawa. We'll try after a "yes." Our commitment is to try to strike a deal with the rest of Canada, but the day Quebec decides to stop sending taxes to Ottawa, Ottawa will have no, no possibility to refuse to sit down at a table and negotiate. And if you read the polls in the rest of Canada, you will see that a majority of English Canadians think that they will have to negotiate with Quebec if Quebec decides to, to get out of the federation.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Going back to the last referendum, on election night, on referendum night, your predecessor, Mr. Parizeau, used the words--he blamed the defeat on money and the ethnic vote. What did he mean by that?
PREMIER BOUCHARD: Well, you know, I think that Mr. Parizeau saw the arithmetic of it. There was a very strong majority of frankophone Quebecers who voted "yes", but those were very unhappy words. Well all regret them and Mr. Parizeau, himself, wrote a letter to excuse himself, in the weeks after that, although the letter is not very quoted often, but he did write a letter, and, uh, those were not the kind of words we have to issue, because they don't reflect what we think. Sovereignists are democratic people; they want to achieve their, their goal, to reach their goal through peace and respect of other opinions, and there is no difference to make between Quebecers, no distinction to draw between Quebecers, whatever language or origin, we are all full-fledged citizens.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Right, but in that case, why is it the anglo Quebecers and the--the recent immigrants to Quebec felt so threatened not just by the words but apparently by the fact that they feel that there's no future for them in an independent Quebec?
PREMIER BOUCHARD: Well, I think that it's our job--we sovereignists--it's our job to convince them that whatever, whatever the political future of Quebec, Quebec is our country, a place, and we have to stay together. We have to take on any challenges together. And I think that if democracy made the decision, made a decision that it would be, it will be, sovereign country, that they should, they should feel perfectly comfortable here. I--we are already to, to encroach on the constitution, get full guarantees for them, respect of their rights and everything, and we need that. We all need that. We need each other.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Is there anything at all Canada could do now to forestall another referendum, to perhaps renegotiate the terms of Quebec's commitment to Canada the way that would avoid this split?
PREMIER BOUCHARD: There are two aspects in their questions. One would be the hard line trying to stop Quebec from doing another--calling a referendum, I don't know how--and this is not possible. The second aspect of the question was dealing with something very, very resilient, I would say, in the political landscape of Quebec and Canada trying to settle everything in a negotiation, and this has been what we have all tried to do for the last 30 years. There have been numerous negotiation attempts; they all failed. So there is some kind of, I wouldn't say stubbornness, but incapacity, incapacity to accept the reality of Quebec as a distinct society, as a collectivity, as a nation, and this is, uh, this is, uh, the main problem for English Canada and for Quebec too.
CHARLES KRAUSE: But at the same time, there does seem to be some evidence that attitudes in English Canada are changing, that the closeness of the referendum and the possibility that Quebec might secede has begun to actually sink in, in the rest of Canada and there's a new minister now in Ottawa from Montreal, who is looking for ways to find some sort of compromise here.
PREMIER BOUCHARD: I don't know if it is the one who is trying to threaten people to partition if Quebec votes "yes". If this is the new approach, it will be very much counter-productive. You might think that this close, very close call would inspire more flexibility in, in Ottawa. It seems to be the contrary. We have seen a very negative reaction--reaction--and I don't see from Ottawa coming anything flexible. Maybe they will, I don't know, but my, my experience and history have shown that Ottawa has not a lot of flexibility to offer anything to Quebec. The only solution is to call a referendum when time comes. That's why we will devote our time here not to those questions in the meantime but to economy, job creation, public finances, and everything. And when the time comes, we'll call the referendum.
CHARLES KRAUSE: And a last question: Is sovereignty, is separation from Canada now inevitable?
PREMIER BOUCHARD: I think so, it is. I cannot set a date, but it's there in the dynamics of reality.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Thank you.
PREMIER BOUCHARD: Thank you.