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Canadian Elections: Quebec

Brass Tacks

By Ronald I. Cohen

The support of Quebec voters in the Canadian election of April 8 will be of great importance in determining the national outcome. If the Liberals can carry the province, they will be reasonably sure of a clear majority in the twenty-sixth Parliament. If they cannot, the election will probably result in a second consecutive minority government.

John G. Diefenbaker's Progressive Conservatives realize that they have little chance of winning of Quebes, so they have decided to spend most of their time and energy campaigning in those constituencies which supported them in last June's election. The socialist New Democratic Party will campaign hardest in the urban industrial areas of central and western Canada for similar reasons. Consequently the Quebec battle lines will form around the Liberal, Social Credit, and various separatist parties.

The Liberal Party should slice through both the English and French barriers to gain substantial support in each of the nation's ten provinces. Leader Lester B. Pearson has taken a solid and uncompromising position on the two key issues which face the country: biculturalism and nuclear policy. Although Pearson's pro-nuclear posture will antagonize some pacifist French-Canadians, he has softened the possible effects by stating his position in terms of Canada's responsibility and commitments to NATO and NORAD. In addition, Pearson's genuine concern for the problem of Confederation, the co-existence of the English and French in equality, will endear him to the voters of French Quebec.

Endearment is hardy sufficient with the presence of Real Caouette and his French nationalist Socreds in Quebec. Caouette, a car salesman from the northern constituency of Rouyn-Noranda, is a fiery, arm-waving demagogue, who captured the votes of rural Quebec in the last general election. Of the 30 seats which Social Credit won across the nation, 26 were in Quebec. In the first weeks of the current campaign, the Caouette threat to the major parties appeared greater than ever before in Quebec. Political observers were predicting as many as 50 seats for the Socreds.

To answer the Caouette challenge, the Liberals have rallied their provincial support, from the Provincial Premier, Jean Lesage, down to Yvon Dupuis, a music store proprietor in St. Jean. The presence of Lesage will undoubtedly bring many of his devoted provincial followers into the national party fold. Thirty-five old Dupuis is the Liberal Party's ace-in-the-hole, their answer to Caouette. Involved in Quebec politics since the age of 25, when he was elected to the Provincial Legislature, Dupis has been described as a Young Paul Martin, a powerful speaker with the Gallic flair of Caouette. His oratorical gesticulations have been on French television for the past six weeks in preparation for his contest in the riding of St. Jean-Iberville against Dollard Richard an influential member of the Socreds. Dupuis's line: "It's time to show that Caouette is doing nothing but fooling the French-Canadian people"; his purpose: to out-Caouette Caouette. With Lesage, Dupuis, and the Liberal machine thoroughly organized Social Credit will be plenty busy attempting to retain their 26 seats.

The Progressive Conservative Party has lost most of its political force in Quebec, where Prime Minister Diefenbaker has alienated many one-time friends. When support biculturalism, Diefenbaker remained abnormally quiet. An amendment calling for increased bilingualism in the civil service and the armed forces, and a special conference on the bicultural aspects of Confederation were adopted only on the second vote, and then by a narrow margin. Quebec delegates left the conversion with bitter memories. The Progressive Conservatives will leave Quebec on April 8 with considerably more than bitter memories and few seats.

The New Democratic Party, under the leadership of T. C. Douglas, former Premier of Saskatchewan, has little hope of making any inroads in conservative Quebec. The N.D.P. has none of the ethnic appeal of either the Liberal or Socred parties, an appeal so essential in French Canada. The socialists find most of their support in the labor and agrarian movements, largely concentrated in the provinces of Ontario and Saskatchewan.

Extreme French-Canadian nationalism instigated the recent demand for separatism. The immediate result was the formation of the Rassemblement pour I'Independence National, headed by Dr. Marcel Chaput. Merely a political activist group, the R.I.N. has done plenty of shooting, but has accomplished practically nothing. Chaput, dissatisfied with mere shouting, resigned form the R.I.N. to form his own political party, the Parti Republican du Quebec. Guy Pouliot took over the leadership of the R.I.N. Meanwhile, Chaput allied himself with Dr. Raymond Barbeau and his four-year old Alliance Laurentienne. None of these separatist parties will win any seats, they will only cut down some of the Caouette vote, also very dependent on right-wing dissident French nationalists.

With the almost non-existent influence of the Progressive Conservatives and the New Democratic Party, and the limited importance of the Separatists, the Social Credit Party and the Liberals should slice the Quebec pie alone. With the aid of Premier League, Nobel Prizewinner Pearson, and music retailer Dupuis, the Liberals should receive the far larger portion.

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