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Top Separatist in Running for Quebec Premier

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Quebec separatist movement received a boost Tuesday when charismatic leader Lucien Bouchard declared his candidacy for premier of the French-speaking Canadian province.

Virtually all other leading candidates for the post have already said they will step aside for Bouchard.

He is expected to assume the job in mid-January, after first being acclaimed leader of the ruling Parti Quebecois and winning election to the provincial Parliament in a district surrounding the town where he grew up.

The decision means that Bouchard will leave the Canadian federal Parliament, where he has been leader of the opposition since 1993.

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Bouchard had kept Canadians in suspense for two weeks while he debated whether to take the premiership, which is being vacated at year’s end by Jacques Parizeau, or accede to the wishes of his wife and two sons and leave politics.

Bouchard said it was a difficult decision for him and his family and was only reached last week toward the end of a Florida vacation.

“I think unconsciously all my career has prepared me for this,” he said. “I think I can do something for Quebec.”

In the end, Bouchard, the most popular politician in Quebec, apparently could not pass up what could be the separatists’ last chance in this century to lead the province out of Canada.

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But those struggling to keep Canada united say his decision to take over from Parizeau could become his political undoing if unavoidable budget cuts erode his public support.

Bouchard said there is no chance he will commit Quebec to a revised form of federation with the rest of Canada, despite promises of constitutional change from the federal government.

“It is not possible. I am a sovereigntist,” he said.

Parizeau resigned the day after separatists narrowly lost an Oct. 30 referendum on Quebec independence, 50.6% to 49.4%. Bouchard declined to set a date for the next referendum, but he indicated that it could be in 1997, when Canada must review its constitution.

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Quebec will address “unemployment, social solidarity, education and culture” while the rest of Canada wrestles with proposed alterations to the constitution, Bouchard said.

“Setting public finances in order once more is no longer simply a matter of good management, but rather it is an imperative duty,” he said.

Quebec owes nearly $75 billion in public debt, which represents 58.4% of the province’s gross domestic product. Its budget deficit was $4.3 billion in 1994-95.

Unemployment consistently runs higher in the province than in the country as a whole. While 9.4% of Canadians were jobless in October, the figure was 11.2% in Quebec.

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Bouchard said the reordering of provincial finances “must be accomplished with constant concern for the preservation of the social safety net.”


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