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TORONTO (Reuters) - The leader of the separatist Bloc Quebecois made an unusual campaign stop outside Quebec on Friday, but Gilles Duceppe had a message of solidarity for neighboring Ontario, promising to block the ruling Conservatives' bid to win a majority in the upcoming election.
Duceppe, who has kept the blame spotlight on how the government's policies have hurt the Canadian economy, also joked at Prime Minister Stephen Harper's expense about his visit to Toronto, the heartland of English-speaking Canada.
"Harper had fun saying I was coming to grab votes from Torontonians. Of course I'm not," said Duceppe whose party field candidates only in French-speaking Quebec.
"One thing is for sure, nobody can grab seats from Mr. Harper in Toronto. He doesn't have any," Duceppe said, the day after party leaders held a televised debate in which no knock-out punches appeared to have been landed.
Polls show the Conservatives are set to retain power in the October 14 election and may have a good chance of turning their current minority in the House of Commons into a majority -- a result that Harper's rivals have played on in a bid to undermine soft Conservative support.
Some analysts have said Harper could see the Conservatives pick up much needed seats in Quebec.
"This election is about giving or not giving a majority to Stephen Harper. Quebec's vision and Stephen Harper's vision oppose each other," said Duceppe.
"And so, the only political force capable of stopping Stephen Harper is the Bloc Quebecois," he said.
Duceppe said that while he was not in Toronto to tell English-speaking Canadians how to vote, it was important that Ontarians understand the Quebec point of view.
"Ultimately it's their decision (Ontarians), but it's important for them to know our views. It's always important to have other people's point of view before making a decision," he later told reporters.
Ontario and Quebec share similar woes in their manufacturing sectors, which have lost thousands of jobs because of a high Canadian dollar and soaring energy costs, as well as from deteriorating U.S. economy that has weakened exports.
The Bloc leader broke from his prepared remarks to acknowledge award-winning Canadian author Margaret Atwood, who sat at his luncheon table. She, in turn, led the applause when Duceppe spoke about the importance of culture and the arts, and their role in the economy.
Last week, Atwood lashed out at the Conservatives in a sharply worded article in the Globe and Mail over the federal government's arts-funding policies -- an issue that also has a high profile in Quebec.
"Every budding dictatorship begins by muzzling the artists, because they're a mouthy lot and they don't line up and salute very easily," Atwood wrote on September 25.
The CBC reported on Friday that Atwood said if she lived in Quebec, she would vote for the Bloc Quebecois "without a doubt."
Additional reporting by Lionel Perron and David Ljunggren; editing by Rob Wilson