| OTTAWA, March 10
OTTAWA, March 10 The separatist Parti Quebecois
is no longer in the lead in Quebec's provincial election
campaign, though it would likely win the most seats in the April
7 vote if current support holds, according to a recent poll.
An Internet survey by the polling firm CROP released on
Sunday night puts support for the ruling Parti Quebecois (PQ),
which wants Quebec to separate from Canada, at 36 percent. This
is the same level as the pro-Canada Liberal Party of Quebec,
with the smaller Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) at 17 percent.
The poll was taken before a surprise announcement on Sunday
that media mogul Pierre-Karl Peladeau, the former chief
executive of Quebecor Inc, would be running on the PQ
ticket for a seat in the provincial legislature.
The French arm of the Canadian Broadcasting Corp, which
commissioned the CROP poll (link.reuters.com/qed57v), put
the data out under a headline that said "PQ majority far from
A previous poll released on March 5 at the start of the
campaign showed the PQ ahead with 37 percent support to the
Liberal Party's 35 percent.
The question of whether the separatists win a majority in
the provincial legislature is critical because with it they
would be in a stronger position to launch what could be Quebec's
third referendum on whether to leave Canada.
The PQ won the last election 18 months ago but its hands
were tied because it only had a minority of seats. The other two
main parties oppose a referendum.
The Internet survey of 1,400 respondents, which is not fully
random like a phone poll, was taken March 5-8.
Peladeau, who is also the controlling shareholder in media
empire Quebecor Inc, said his decision to join the PQ reflected
his deepest values, "that is, to make Quebec a country."
His move was all the more striking for the fact that the
Quebec business community has traditionally favored keeping the
mainly French-speaking province in Canada.
Peladeau controls 28 percent of the shares and 73 percent of
the voting shares of Quebecor Inc, a company spokesman said. The
company owns the largest newspaper in Quebec, the Journal de
Montreal, and reaches a huge television news audience in the
province via the French-language TVA network.
In announcing his PQ candidacy, he stepped down as Quebecor
vice chairman and board member, and as chairman and board member
of Quebecor Media and TVA Group Inc, and said he would
no longer take part in any decisions on the corporation's daily
or strategic management.(link.reuters.com/gud57v)
He also promised that if elected he would put his assets in
a blind trust or under blind management.
The same CROP survey showed 61 percent would vote no in a
referendum on independence, with 39 percent yes. Canada narrowly
escaped breakup in 1995, when a vote on separation went down by
50.6 percent to 49.4 percent after a campaign that weighed on
Canada's dollar and government bonds. The vote in 1980 lost by a
larger margin, 59.6 percent to 40.4 percent.
Quebec Premier and PQ leader Pauline Marois has refused to
say whether she would hold a third referendum if her party won a
majority of seats, and she were reelected. Provincial Liberal
leader Philippe Couillard latched onto Peladeau's remarks as
showing the ballot question of the election.
"That's it. Do you want a referendum on separation, or do
you want a government that will concentrate on the economy and
jobs?" he said.
Though the PQ is tied with the provincial Liberals in the
CROP poll, traditional voting patterns suggest it would still
pick up more seats than the Liberals and thus would still be
able to form at least a minority government if the polling
results translated into votes.
That is because the provincial Liberal vote is more heavily
concentrated in a smaller number of electoral districts,
particularly in anglophone areas.
The Journal de Montreal estimated (link.reuters.com/hud57v)
that the CROP results would give the PQ 53 to 73 of the 125
seats, with the Liberals winning 43 to 65 seats.
(Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson; editing by Andrew Hay)