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Furor After Separatist Says “White” Quebeckers Need More Babies

October 16, 1995

TORONTO (AP) _ Debate over racism and sexism flared in the Quebec independence campaign Monday after a separatist leader, bemoaning Quebeckers’ low birthrate, said, ``We’re one of the white races that has fewest children.″

Federalists seeking a ``No″ vote in an Oct. 30 referendum on independence depicted Lucien Bouchard’s remark over the weekend as a serious gaffe that could undermine the separatists’ chances.

``I can’t fathom what he is implying,″ said Conservative Party leader Jean Charest. ``It shows a leadership out of control.″

Women’s groups said Bouchard was consigning women to the role of baby-maker. Black leaders said he was widening a racial gap between Quebec’s 6 million-strong French community and the province’s non-white population of several hundred thousand.

Bouchard’s remarks were ``equally offensive to women and people concerned about racism,″ said Dan Philip, president of the Black Coalition of Quebec. ``On the one hand he emphasized the racial divide between some Quebecois and others. On the other he treats Quebecois women as a vessel to supply more children.″

Bouchard, leader of the separatist Bloc Quebecois in the federal parliament, has taken the lead role in the separatist campaign over the past 10 days. His charismatic style has been credited with pulling the separatists into a virtual dead heat with the federalists.

He spoke about Quebec’s birthrate Saturday while campaigning near Montreal at rallies intended to win over undecided female voters.

On Sunday, realizing his opponents were trying to capitalize on the remark, Bouchard said, ``They’re desperate.″

He said his comment was made in the context of urging stronger welfare programs to strengthen and benefit families in Quebec.

``The rest _ that’s petty politics,″ he said.

During his speech Saturday, Bouchard asked: ``Do you think it makes sense that we have so few children in Quebec?″

``We’re one of the white races that has fewest children, that’s really something,″ he added. ``That suggests we haven’t solved our family problems.″

Quebec’s birthrate has been stagnant for several years, and immigrants have accounted for virtually all the population growth in the province of 7 million people.

Bouchard ``has no idea of the reality of Quebec in 1995,″ said Labor Minister Lucienne Robillard, the federal government’s top coordinator of referendum strategy.

``Does that mean a white woman who is married to an immigrant from Chile or somewhere else shouldn’t have children? What on earth is he talking about?″

Chantale Corriveau, spokeswoman for a federalist women’s group called Impacte, said, ``Linking the personal choice of women to bear children or not to the question of Quebec’s sovereignty is to marginalize women and strip them of their personal choices.″

Not all separatists appeared ready to share Bouchard’s concerns over the low birthrate. Marie-Josee Lacoste, an employee at a Montreal specialty store, reported brisk sales of pro-sovereignty condoms decorated with the Quebec flag and the words `Say Yes.′

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