Quebec separatists soften idea of break with Canada

Wed Mar 5, 2008 1:27pm EST
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The leader of a separatist party in French-speaking Quebec said on Wednesday she wants to scrap the movement's commitment to seek a quick break from the rest of Canada if it wins power.

Polls show the opposition Parti Quebecois (PQ) trails the province's Liberal government, in part because of nervousness about a pledge to hold a referendum on independence in the first year of its mandate.

The PQ performed badly in the last provincial election, in March 2007, and quickly ditched its then leader.

The PQ will discuss a new policy platform later this month and leader Pauline Marois, who took over in June, said if the party wins the next election she wants to start "a national conversation" with Quebecers about sovereignty.

"I am breaking the mold by proposing ... that we suspend the obligation to have a referendum in the first part of our mandate," she told a televised news conference.

She declined to say when a future PQ government might hold a referendum, saying: "I am removing an obligation, I don't want to create another one now."

Quebec voted against separation from Canada in referendums held in 1980 and 1995, both times when the PQ was in power.

The comments were the latest Marois has made on the need to slow down the rush to hold a referendum.   Continued...

<p>Newly elected Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois (bottom R) speaks as session resumes at the National Assembly in Quebec City October 16, 2007. REUTERS/Mathieu Belanger</p>