Quebec calls election, raising prospect of independence drive

Wed Mar 5, 2014 1:31pm EST
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By Randall Palmer

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Quebec's separatist government moved to capitalize on a lead in the polls on Wednesday, launching a provincial election it hopes will result in a majority government that could eventually lead to a third referendum on independence from Canada.

"It is necessary to put an end to the obstruction of our opponents," Premier Pauline Marois of the Parti Quebecois (PQ), who has headed a minority government for the past 18 months, said in triggering the April 7 election.

The first two referendums on Quebec independence, in 1980 and 1995, failed; 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.

"The return of the PQ government will ensure a referendum on the separation of Quebec," declared Philippe Couillard, head of the Quebec Liberal Party, which wants to keep Canada united.

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 government bonds. The vote in 1980 lost by a larger margin, 59.6 percent to 40.4 percent.

In launching her re-election 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."

An Internet survey by pollster Leger published on Wednesday by the Journal de Montreal 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.   Continued...

Quebec's Premier Pauline Marois speaks during a news conference before calling an election at the National Assembly in Quebec City, March 5, 2014. REUTERS/Mathieu Belanger