Quebec Separatist Recovering From Killer Bacteria : Canada: Bouchard’s brush with death sparks speculation on future of independence movement.


After a medical struggle that enthralled Canada, doctors said Friday that they have saved the life of Quebec separatist leader Lucien Bouchard from a virulent, muscle-destroying bacteria that had forced the amputation of his left leg.

“He’s not out of the woods, but nearly out of the woods,” Dr. Patrick D’Amico said of Bouchard, the opposition leader in the Canadian Parliament and widely regarded as the country’s most compelling advocate of Quebec independence.

The infection was described as under control and responding to antibiotics.

Citing an 80% mortality rate from necrotizing myositis, the muscle-harming manifestation of the streptococcus A bacterium, D’Amico and other members of the medical team that worked on Bouchard called his survival “almost a miracle.”


They said Bouchard, who turns 56 this month, could be out of Montreal’s Saint Luc Hospital in three to four weeks and then would face about four months of physical therapy and rehabilitation.

The doctors said Bouchard had undergone three surgeries since Tuesday, two on his leg that included the amputation and another in his abdomen and chest area.

Bouchard’s brush with death and expected absence from the political scene triggered immediate speculation about the future of the Quebec independence movement.

Bouchard shares leadership of the movement with Jacques Parizeau, the recently elected premier of Quebec. The two men were expected to reveal their strategy next week for winning a province-wide referendum on independence to be held next year. Bouchard and Parizeau were to be co-captains of the campaign in favor of a “yes” vote.

Jean-Marc Leger, a top Quebec pollster, said Bouchard remains the most popular politician in the province, with appeal to a broad demographic of French-speaking voters and to more moderate factions wary of Parizeau’s intense nationalism.

A Leger poll released Monday showed 45.7% of Quebec voters in favor of independence--or sovereignty, as it is most often described here--and 54.3% backing continued union with Canada.


Max Nemni, a political science professor at Laval University in Quebec City and an expert in Quebec nationalism, said the courage and determination attributed to Bouchard by his doctors Friday could give a significant emotional boost to separatism.

There are parallels to the political lift that then-President Ronald Reagan received after he survived an assassination attempt in March, 1981, Nemni added.

“To a certain extent (in an election campaign), images are more important than actions or words,” Nemni said. “Sympathy is going to pour over Mr. Bouchard for quite some time for his bravery, etc. So I think that this will be a plus for the sovereigntists. . . . When you’re dealing with nationalism, emotions are extremely important.”

One veteran separatist strategist made a similar observation. “It’s going to be like Rocky,” the strategist said, requesting anonymity.

But Jeremy Webber, a law professor at McGill University in Montreal who also analyzes Quebec politics, disagreed.

“I don’t think that the sympathy for Mr. Bouchard would translate into a ‘yes’ vote for the referendum. It’s much too serious an issue for that,” he said.


Bouchard was admitted to the hospital Tuesday with what was then described as phlebitis, an inflammation of the blood vessels in the leg. Canadians were stunned Thursday night by a terse announcement that Bouchard’s left leg had been amputated and that he was in serious but stable condition.

Overnight it leaked out from friends and associates that Bouchard was suffering from necrotizing myositis and that he was fighting for his life.

Reporters camped on the sidewalk in front of the hospital. “Canada A.M.,” a morning television program, flew co-anchor Keith Morrison from Toronto to Montreal and broadcast live from the hospital entrance Friday morning.

Expressions of sympathy crossed all political boundaries. A single yellow rose was left on Bouchard’s desk in the House of Commons. The doctors’ noon press conference was telecast live across Canada.