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Cablegate: Quebecers Give Bloc Quebecois 54 Seats, Punishing

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 MONTREAL 000888

SIPDIS


E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV CA
SUBJECT: QUEBECERS GIVE BLOC QUEBECOIS 54 SEATS, PUNISHING
LIBERALS

1. This cable was jointly prepared by the Montreal and
Quebec City Consulates.

2. SUMMARY: As predicted, the Bloc Quebecois took 54 of 75
possible seats in Quebec in yesterday's Federal election,
gaining 21 seats in Parliament, and matching the party's
1993 seat count, when former Bloc leader and founder Lucien
Bouchard led the newly-born party to victory. Quebec voters
were the least volatile in Canada, as election-day results
matched what pollsters had measured from the outset of the
campaign. Although the Conservatives came in second in a
few races, neither they nor the New Democratic Party, which
came in behind the Green party in many ridings, elected
anyone in the province.

3. Some have called the Bloc's performance a resurrection,
since only a year ago the party's imminent demise was
predicted by many pundits. However, handed the gift of the
corporate sponsorship scandals -- and Liberal stumbling in
its Quebec strategy -- Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe adroitly
managed an almost mistake-free campaign, shrewdly depicting
himself and his party as trust-worthy and competent Quebec-
firsters, while downplaying his party's sovereignist goals
in order to make in-roads among non-separatist Quebec
voters. While Separatist militants are buoyed by the
election results, many Quebecers cast a protest vote for
the Bloc, because they wanted to punish the Liberals, and
couldn't stomach the Conservatives. END SUMMARY

Campaign Conduct

4. The corporate sponsorship scandals figured hugely in the
election results. Gilles Duceppe, in his victory speech,
reiterated that the loyalty of Quebecers cannot be bought, a
reference to the Chretien government's channeling of funds
to Liberal public relations firms in the province.
Compounding their difficulties in overcoming the sponsorship
scandals, the selection of Jean Lapierre as Prime Minister
Martin's election lieutenant in Quebec was viewed by many as
yet another example of Liberal cronyism. Lapierre, who
squeaked out a victory in the well-to-do and traditionally
Liberal Outremont riding of Montreal, reportedly had
promotional contracts with the tobacco industry and other
big business interests, even while he served as a journalist
and host of public affairs television and radio shows.

5. While Lapierre was forced to take a low profile, Duceppe
campaigned widely and prominently throughout the province,
projecting confidence and promotion of Quebec's interests.
Duceppe has been depicted by political cartoonists for years
as a dour, shower-capped -- a 1997 photo of Duceppe touring
a Cheese factory wearing a sanitary hat has dogged his
political career -- single-issue cousin of the provincial
Parti Quebecois leaders. However, during the campaign,
Duceppe overcame his reputation for charmlessness.

Sovereignty Question Re-Opened?

6. PQ Opposition Leader Landry's comment in a June 23 Globe
& Mail interview that a Bloc win could hasten the chances
for a referendum on Quebec independence was practically the
only gaffe in the Bloc's campaign. Duceppe, and other Bloc
candidates, however, maintained a disciplined message that
this election was not about sovereignty, an issue that can
only be decided through a provincial referendum. While
technically true, it was clear from Duceppe's acceptance
speech and from Posts' campaign conversations with Bloc
militants, that sovereignists in the province feel buoyed by
the Bloc's show of strength. There is already speculation
that the 56-year-old Duceppe, who hailed Landry as his
friend and supporter in his victory speech, could succeed
the 67-year-old PQ leader in the next provincial election.

7. Polling during the campaign did show a higher level of
support for sovereignty - at 50 percent according to some
data - than the average level since the 1995 referendum of
42 percent. However, analysts note that support for Quebec
independence follows patterns that have been fairly constant
over the past decades. Stronger among the young, weaker
among the elderly, women and ethnic communities, support for
sovereignty when a referendum is only a faint prospect years
away is not taken very seriously, even by voters. The Parti
Quebecois would have to regain their mandate in Quebec City
for a referendum to be held. Though his government is very
unpopular right now, Liberal Quebec Premier Jean Charest
does not have to call an election until 2007.

Liberal Fortress Montreal Holds, Though Cracks Show

8. Although none of the Montreal-area ministers and MPs lost
their seats, many experienced their first tension-filled
election night, with leads seesawing throughout the evening.
Health Minister Pierre Pettigrew's victory in the Papineau
riding was uncertain until early in the morning; he won by
only a few hundred votes. Development Minister Liza Frulla,
in Jeanne-Le Ber, similarly won by less than 500 votes.
Those small margins of victory should not prevent the two
ministers from playing a key role in trying to re-establish
the Liberal base in Quebec. Martin is expected to rely as
well on experienced Quebec MPs Denis Coderre and Stephane
Dion. But Lapierre's election in Outremont may be a hot
potato for Martin: if appointed to the cabinet, the former
TV news analyst could remain a lightning rod for the media
who will hound him about his past.

Bloc Inroads

9. The biggest loss for the Liberals in the Province was
Heritage Minister Helene Chalifour-Scherrer in the Quebec
City riding of Louis-Herbert. She lost to French CBC
reporter Roger Clavet of the Bloc. The Bloc swept all 10
seats in the Quebec City region, with the exception of the
Beauce riding, where Liberal Claude Drouin barely clung to
his seat. He is now the only Liberal MP in eastern Quebec.
The Liberal's star candidate Dennis Dawson in Beauport was
beaten by Christian Simard, who won twice as many votes.
The Liberals also lost Georges Farrah in the Iles-de-la-
Madeleine to Bloquiste Raynald Blais.

10. For the sovereignists to make headway in their
independence cause, they need to win converts in Quebec's
ethnic communities. But during a candid conversation with
Francine Lalonde, the Bloc's foreign affairs spokesperson,
Montreal PAO was told that support for sovereignty among
ethnic communities was still not very high despite the
Bloc's incessant efforts. Even among the French-speaking
Haitian community, support for the Bloc does not reach forty
percent, said Lalonde. Lalonde said that for immigrants
coming from countries where instability meant violence and
chaos, it is very difficult to dismiss the fear campaign
federalists mount any time Quebec's independence is
mentioned. One of the Bloc's challenges is to convince
Haitian and other immigrant groups that they would be better
off in a sovereign Quebec, than in the Canada that welcomed
them and gave them a passport. Still, Lalonde proudly
introduced us to a Chinese volunteer from her riding, and
also noted the endorsement of the Bloc by Black Coalition of
Quebec President Dan Phillip.

11. A quick look at the results shows the Bloc did improve
its standing in ridings with a large ethnic percentage.
Outremont, with a non-Francophone population of 50 percent,
almost voted in a Bloc candidate, but that can partly be
explained by the unpopularity of Jean Lapierre. However, in
St-Leonard (a heavily Italian district), Massimo Pacetti, a
young Liberal unknown won scandal-tainted Alfonso Gagliano's
old riding by more than 17,000 votes.

12. In his victory speech, Duceppe also proudly hailed the
victories of Bloc candidates Maka Kotto in St. Lambert and
Bernard Cleary in Louis-Saint-Laurent. Kotto, an actor
originally from Cameroon, has appeared on stage and in
television series in Quebec. Bernard Cleary, an Innu, is
the first member of a First Nation to be elected from
Quebec. Duceppe, who has disciplined BQ MPs in the past for
digressions from the party line, may find it more difficult
to keep these newcomers on message. Cleary drew rebukes
from other First Nation chiefs and from Duceppe during the
campaign when he said that Ottawa should send in the army to
quell trouble on the Mohawk territory of Kanesatake. Kotto
is used to expressing himself freely, as well.

Role of the Bloc In Ottawa Unchanged

13. Although headlines called the results a triumph for the
Bloc, leader Duceppe may have preferred a Conservative
minority with the Bloc holding the balance of power. With a
Liberal-NDP coalition, the left-of-center Bloc is still in
the position of trying to claim credit for any progressive
measures the government passes while continuing to criticize
any attempts to centralize power in Ottawa. The Bloc can be
expected as well to continue hammering on the subject of
fiscal imbalance between the provinces and the federal
government when the House of Commons reopens.

14. If NDP leader Jack Layton is true to his campaign
rhetoric, and makes proportional representation a top
priority once the Commons reconvenes, the Bloc might make an
issue of it. Though theoretically everyone supports PR, the
subject is very sensitive in Quebec because it is closely
related to linguistic divisions; proportional representation
would give Montreal's West Island Anglophones considerable
power.

15. Comment: Voter turnout in Quebec was lower than the
national average at 58.9 percent. The Liberals may have
been hurt by voter fatigue in areas where municipal demerger
referendums were held just last week. All in all, while the
Bloc Quebecois has certainly received a new lease on life,
it would be hard to characterize the Bloc win as a sea
change in attitudes here toward sovereignty. As for the
lifespan of the current minority Liberal government, Bloc
MPs will not want to impose yet another election campaign on
Quebecers in the near future given that their party's
current strength may fail when anger toward the Liberals
dissipates. End Comment.
ALLEN

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