UPDATE 1-Quebec calls election, raising prospect of independence drive
OTTAWA, March 5 (Reuters) - Quebec's separatist government moved to capitalize on a lead in the polls on Wednesday, launching a provincial election that could eventually lead to a third referendum on independence from Canada if the vote leaves the separatists with a majority government.
"It is necessary to put an end to the obstruction of our opponents," Premier Pauline Marois, who has headed a minority government for the past 18 months, said in triggering the election, which will take place on April 7.
The first two referendums on Quebec independence, in 1980 and 1995, failed, and the separatists can only launch another one if they have a majority of seats in the Quebec legislature. They might choose not to call a new referendum, but winning a majority would give them the option.
Canada narrowly escaped breakup in 1995, when a vote on separation went down by 50.6 percent to 49.4 percent after a campaign that weighed on Canada's dollar and bonds. The vote in 1980 lost by a larger margin, 59.6 percent to 40.4 percent.
In launching her reelection campaign, Marois did not mention a referendum, but the campaign slogan for her political party, the Parti Quebecois, gave a hint: "More prosperous, stronger, more independent and more welcoming."
The Journal de Montreal published an Internet survey by pollster Leger on Wednesday that it said pointed to a majority government for the Parti Quebecois.
The survey of 1,502 people put the PQ ahead of the Liberal Party of Quebec by 37 percent to 35 percent, but the important number lay in the huge margin for the separatists -- 45 percent for the PQ, compared with 23 percent for the Liberals -- in Quebec's dominant French-speaking population. The poll was conducted from Feb. 28 to March 3.
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