LAGGING IN CAMPAIGN
After Lévesque Referendum Loss, Liberals Are Favored to Win April´s Vote in
Special toTheNew York Times
MONTREAL, March 14—The referendum defeat suffered last year by Premier René
Lévesque and his Parti Québécois appears to hang like an albatross around their
neck as they embark on what seems at the moment to be a losing campaign for re-
election in Quebec April 13.
At a news conference here yesterday, Claude Ryan» leader of the Quebec Liberal
Party, announced his intention to see that the albatross stays there. Mr. Ryan
declared that since the overwhelming defeat last May of the Parti Québécois´s
proposals for sovereignty for the province and a new association with Canadá,
"it appeared obvious that the Parti Québécois no longer had the moral and
political authority needed to direct the affairs of Quebec."
In a similar vein, Mr. Lévesque´s other majcr adversary, Prime Minister Pierre
Elliott Trudeau, said yesterday that he did not see why the Quebec electorate,
after opposing the province´s separation from Canada, would vote for a party
that supported this goal.
At a news conference in Quebec City, Mr. Lévesque responded that he still
believed in the sovereigntyassociation proposal but that "we have never forced
Quebecers to swallow it." He repeated a pledge not to hold another referendum on
the subject during a new term.
Stresses Economic Development
But the Premier´s opening declaration contained nationalist language similar to
that used during the referendum campaign — references to a strong and self-
confident Quebec society able to do things for itself without outside
interference. He emphasized economic development, add-ing,"it is essentially "by
calling on Quebec´s own resources that progress has been brought about." He
contrasted this self-reliance with what he called the Liberals constant appeal
All recent polis attest to a high degree of popularity for Mr. Lévesque as well
as satisfaction with his government. But paradoxically every analysis has
indicated ,that this will not translate into enough votes to keep him in power.
The major factor appears to be opposition to the partys goal of independence.
The Parti Québécois was able to overcome this handicap in 1976 because the
Liberals, then in power in the province, had been discredited by scandals and
inept performance in government.
Mr. Lévesque ,campaigning then as now on a platform of "good government,"
alleviated fears of his independence goal by a promise to achieve it only if it
was approved by a referendum. Even Mr. Ryan, then the publisher of the scholarly
Montreal daily Le Devoir,threw his support to him. Mr. Lévesque´s victory, seen
by his f ollowers as part of an historically inevitable process of emancipatton
for the French-speaking province, created a feeling of polítical crisis
Liberals Win All By-Elections Mr. Ryan assumed leadership of the Quebec Liberals
in April 1978 and has succeeded in changing íts reputation for engaging in low
level politics. In addition to their referendum victory, the Liberals nave won
all by elections held in the province since 1976 and have insisted that the 1976
victory of proindependence forces was a political accident.
The Liberals have solid support among English-speaking Quebecers and so called
ethnic groups, relatively recent immigrants to Quebec who have felt alienated
from the Parti Québécois because they see it as the spokesman for the French -
The English-speaking and other minorities account for about 20 percent of the
population of 6.2 million, and, as in the referendum, the Parti Québécois must
get an extremely high percentage of the French vote to overcome the built in
advantage that the Liberals enjoy. A district by district analysis by Le Devoir
yesterday gave the Liberals a strong lead in 52 districts and the Parti
Québécois a more tenuous lead in 26.
Liberals Need Few Districts
With 122 seats in the provincial parliament at stake, 12 more than last time
because of redistricting, Mr. Ryan´s forces would need to concentrate on
relatively few districts to obtain a majority if the analysis is correct. It is
based to a large extent on the referendum results, but in the election local
issues and personalities are thought likely to play a larger role.
In 1976 the Parti Québécois was helped by the strong showing of a third party,
the Union Nationale, which took 18 percent of the vote, most of it from the
Liberals. But the once powerful Union, which governed Quebec in 1940´s and
1950´s, has again relapsed into near oblivion and is not likely to help the
Parti Québécois this time.
Most political experts believe the Union would have to win at least 9 or 10
percent of the vote to make a difference, and it is now considered likely to get
no more than 4 to 5 percent.