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Quebec's Squabble Hurts Economy

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EMPTY factories, boarded-up hotels, office buildings with "for lease" signs in the window, and weeds on the unmown lawns grab the eye on the drive from Montreal's Dorval Airport down the industrial strip of Cote de Liesse.

They say recession and high unemployment. They also say political instability and nervous money, money fidgety about a place that can't make up its mind about what it wants to be: a country or a semiautonomous province in Canada.

Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union are breaking up. Canadians have been talking about division for more than 30 years, but as yet the nation has not split apart.

Many economists and business people say the seemingly endless haggling over Canada's Constitution is damaging the economic recovery across the country and in Quebec in particular.

"This constitutional madness is crippling Quebec's economic future, and no one will invest with all this uncertainty," says Jean Campeau, former head of the Caisse de Dt Placement du Quebec, the company that manages the province's pension fund.

That is the separatist argument. Mr. Campeau was chairman of the Belanger-Campeau Commission, which looked into Quebec's constitutional problems. The commission recommended a referendum on separation.

Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa "must keep his promise to Quebeckers and hold a clear concise referendum on sovereignty by Oct. 26 at the latest," says Campeau, who now heads a pro-separatist business group called Souverainete Quebec Inc.

"Sovereignty" is the word separatists use for separatism because it doesn't scare people as much.

The separatists predict they would win a straight referendum question and then, say men such as Campeau, they can get down to rebuilding the economy in Quebec.

Unemployment in the province averages 13 percent, but is higher in some parts of Quebec.

"I'm not saying that sovereignty will immediately provide all the magical solutions to our economic problems," Campeau says. "But once we select that option, we can take the powers we need and rebuild the economy."

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