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Quebec Delays Break-Away Vote So Separatists Can Build More Support

By Craig Turner
Los Angeles Times
TORONTO

Quebec voters will decide in a fall referendum whether to break away from the rest of Canada, the province's separatist premier has announced.

Until recently, Premier Jacques Parizeau appeared to be planning his long-promised referendum for May or June. But with polls consistently showing at least 55 percent of Quebec voters in favor of continued union with Canada, Parizeau has been under mounting pressure from fellow separatists to put off the vote rather than risk defeat.

Parizeau included the news in a speech to the Chamber of Commerce in Levis, Quebec, across the St. Lawrence River from Quebec City, Wednesday night.

"Barring some unexpected and exceptional event, which can always happen it appears fitting to invite Quebeckers to their moment of truth in the autumn," Parizeau said. He did not specify a date for the vote, and he uncharacteristically declined to answer reporters' questions afterward.

The delay would give the separatists additional time to build support for their cause, although politics is usually off limits for Quebeckers in the summer, when they prefer to focus on outdoor recreation, vacations and Montreal's jazz, comedy, theater and film festivals.

Backers of Canadian national unity, confident that they would win a spring referendum, immediately denounced the postponement.

"He chose to delay the referendum when Quebeckers are ready to vote," said Lucienne Robillard, the federal Cabinet member fronting the pro-unity campaign. "This is not acceptable. Perhaps they're not ready to vote for separation, but they are ready to vote."

Parizeau was elected last September on a platform promising a referendum on independence within 10 months of the day he took office.