OTTAWA, April 7 The separatist Parti Quebecois
trailed in early results in Quebec elections on Monday, after a
bitterly fought campaign that turned largely on whether the
French-speaking province should hold another referendum on
independence from Canada.
The Quebec Liberal Party, which wants to keep Quebec in
Canada and warned incessantly of the dangers of a new
referendum, took an early lead in the electoral returns in an
apparent rebuke to the governing Parti Quebecois.
The Parti Quebecois had called the election on March 5 in a
bid to transform their minority government into a majority,
which would enable them to carry out their programs and would
give them the power to launch a plebiscite on independence.
This appeared to have backfired as the Parti Quebecois
risked being thrown out of government altogether.
The Liberals led in 52 of the 125 races, and the Parti
Quebecois led in just 20.
The party went into the campaign with a polling lead but
this turned to dust after star candidate Pierre Karl Peladeau, a
media magnate, pumped his fist in the air in saying how he
wanted "to make Quebec a country."
Though sovereignty is the raison d'etre of the Parti
Quebecois, party leader Pauline Marois had focused on other
issues and played down the likelihood of a referendum, but
Peladeau's declaration returned it front and center.
A first referendum in 1980 lost by almost 20 points but a
second one in 1995 turned into a nail-biter for Canada, as the
sovereignty option lost by just over one percentage point.
Polls show that two-thirds of Quebec citizens do not want to
go throught that exercise a third time, and this election showed
the dangers for the separatists of musing about separation.
"Pierre Karl Peladeau was the worst nightmare for the Parti
Quebecois in this election," former federal Member of Parliament
Andre Bachand, who served as senior Quebec advisor to Prime
Minister Stephen Harper, said on CBC television.
(Reporting by Randall Palmer; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)