Premier blames 'ethnic vote'

Montreal - In a chorus of outrage that echoed across Quebec, members of ethnic minorities denounced remarks by the provincial Premier, Jacques Parizeau, in which he blamed immigrants and big business for scuppering the latest bid for independence, writes David Usborne.

Community leaders demanded his resignation and warned that his comments to a crowd of disappointed sovereignty supporters late on Monday night could lead to communal violence.

Taking the podium to acknowledge the razor-thin victory of the federalist opponents of separation, Mr Parizeau declared: "We are beaten, it is true. But by what? By money and the ethnic vote.''

Just over four-fifths of Quebec's population is primarily French-speaking. Among the remainder are Anglo-Canadians as well as native Indians and a wide variety of immigrant communities, notably including Portuguese, Chinese and Haitians. The Indians and the immigrant groups all voted overwhelmingly against independence.

Jaasmire Polifort, a Haitian community leader, called Mr Parizeau's comment "very dangerous". She said: "You have to remember that there are some people out there who don't like ethnic minorities.''

Rabbi Reuben Poupko, president of the Rabbinical Council of Montreal, said the speech was "replete with racism and crass demogoguery. His speech reveals that he does not understand that he is Premier of all Quebeckers.''

Throughout, Mr Parizeau characterised Quebeckers in terms of "us and them", the French-speakers and the non-French-speakers, and even referred repeatedly to the need for revenge.

"This is very offensive," said Armando Barqueiro, editor of A Voz, a Portuguese-language weekly in Montreal read by a community of 30,000 Portuguese. "We are people too. I pay my taxes and I have a voice just as much as any 18-year-old man who's never paid a cent.''