Fault Lines Persist in Canada

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OTTAWA: Despite the intense factionalism that seems ever ready to divide Canada, Monday's national elections appear likely to leave the balance of power essentially unchanged, while weakening the influence of the Quebecois. Although polls are not set to close until 10:30 PM Eastern time, early exit polling indicates that while Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien may not get the boost he hoped for when he called for early elections five months ago, the Liberals will retain control of the government. But the face of Chretien's main opposition is likely to change. The far-right Reform party, led by Preston Manning, has hammered both the separatist Bloc Quebecois and Chretien himself for focusing too indulgently on the Quebec independence issue instead of economic issues like Canada's 9.6 percent unemployment rate. Calling for sweeping tax cuts and decentralization of publicly-provided health care, Reform is expected to take nearly all of the 60 seats in the western provinces of British Columbia and Alberta while weakening somewhat the separatist appeal of Bloc Quebecois. That doesn't mean Quebec separatism is going away, says TIME's Toronto Bureau Chief Andrew Purvis. "While the success of Manning's anti-Quebec message has prodded Chretien to toughen his own stance on the issue," he says, "that may only serve to harden some Quebeckers' contention that the rest of Canada is incapable of addressing French needs."