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Quebec election results eases Jews’ concerns over separatists

MONTREAL, Dec. 1 (JTA) — The run-up to Quebec’s provincial election had prompted concerns that it might be a prelude to another divisive referendum on whether Canada’s largest province should seek independence. But after the separatist Parti Quebecois won another four-to-five year mandate to govern as a result of Monday’s vote, the doom and gloom that accompanied the party’s previous victories did not surface. Neither the general population, nor members of the Jewish community, are concerned that the election results will prompt a refrendum anytime soon. The separatists have lost two previous referendums on secession, one decisively in 1980, the other by a hair-thin margin in 1995. The 1995 referendum campaign was often marked by thinly veiled anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant sentiment. After Monday’s vote, many of those opposed to the separatists were nonetheless optimistic despite the defeat of the Liberal Party led by federalist Jean Charest. While the Parti Quebecois won the election, gaining 75 of the provincial assembly’s 125 seats, the Liberals gained the upper hand in the popular vote, beating the separatist party by a margin of 43.7 percent to 42.7 percent. The popular vote was considered an important gauge of what the future would hold, particularly since the separatist party’s leader, Premier Lucien Bouchard, had stated he would wait for “winning conditions” to be present before calling another vote on sovereignty. There was much concern that the Parti Quebecois would win the popular vote by a large percentage, thereby giving Bouchard the mandate to call a snap referendum on secession. As it turned out, the results left Liberal supporters jubilant, despite their failed attempt to gain control of the assembly. The Jewish community’s political body, the Canadian Jewish Congress, announced its pleasure with the results of Monday’s vote, saying they would not alter the excellent relationship between the community and the provincial government. “We will continue to work closely with the provincial government and the official opposition to further the interests of the Jewish community, as well as those of all Quebec citizens,” said CJC’s Quebec regional chairman, Dorothy Zalcman Howard. CJC’s regional vice chairman, Max Bernard, was also optimistic. “The vote shows that the separatist option is unacceptable to all of Quebec’s segments and linguistic groups,” he said. “The downside of this election is that, unfortunately, I think we’re going to have a confrontational government the next four or five years,” he added. “They will try to confront the rest of Canada as much as possible to prove Quebec’s inability to work within the framework of confederation.” Bernard did see one bright side to the separatist party’s re-election — the possibility that it would increase spending programs, something it failed to do in the previous term, when it put the focus on fiscal restraint. “I think they will suddenly loosen their purse strings in order to give the illusion of good government,” he said.