Quebec’s Landry dismisses rumors of imminent election


QUEBEC CITY, Reuters

Election authorities in French-speaking Quebec are already preparing the ground in case the ruling separatist government decides to call a snap election but Premier Bernard Landry hinted on Tuesday that a vote was not imminent.

“We are not at war. We have not made up our mind,” Landry told reporters after a party caucus on Tuesday evening.

The 64-year-old premier said he felt there was no emergency and said the population did not seem ready for a vote.

“People don’t like costly and useless elections. The main criteria will be public interest,” he added.

There has been growing media speculation that Landry, sworn in on March 8, could call an early election to seek a mandate for his pro-independence platform. An election is not due until November 2003, but Landry can call one earlier if he wishes.

Opinion polls show Landry’s Parti Quebecois, in power since September 1994, is likely headed toward a narrow third consecutive victory.

The separatists have lost two referendums on breaking away from Canada and Landry has vowed to hold another vote on independence if his party wins a fresh mandate, but polls show support for separation is stalled at some 45 percent.

Earlier in the day, a spokesman for Quebec’s chief electoral officer said the government body was “looking at a scenario for a June 18 election and for a May 16 election call, noting that staff had been placed on standby and the hunt was on to rent sites to use as polling stations. This move is not unusual, the spokesman said.

“We are getting ready but it is only a prospective scenario because of the media speculation about a possible snap election this spring. We don’t have any privileged information,” Jean-Yves Hozenne told Reuters.

Quebec Liberal opposition leader Jean Charest, who is in favor of Canadian unity, said he was ready for a good fight with arch-rival Landry but doubted the separatists would go ahead this spring.

“Landry would lose. But if it is in June, we will be ready,” he told a news conference. “If they want to underestimate me, fine, go right ahead. “There are a lot of people out there who … want to change government and have a breath of fresh air,” Charest said.

Financial markets also shrugged off Tuesday’s rumors.

“I don’t think Quebec is really on anybody’s radar scope right now because the opinion polls unanimously suggest that Quebecers don’t want another referendum,” said Rob Palombi, senior fixed-income analyst at Standard & Poor’s MMS.

“Until that changes, regardless of the political machinations going on in Quebec, it’s not really going to be a factor for financial markets.”