August 23, 2011 / 4:53 PM / in 6 years

Quebec separatist leader defiant despite mutiny

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The leader of a separatist party seeking independence for the Canadian province of Quebec brushed off complaints on Tuesday from mutinous legislators in her party who say she is not up to the job.

The opposition Parti Quebecois (PQ) lost its once commanding lead in opinion polls after a group of influential legislators quit the party in June in protest against the performance of leader Pauline Marois.

“I think the events of last June clearly shook up public opinion about our (party) but apart from that, it doesn’t fundamentally change anything,” Marois told French-language public broadcaster Radio Canada.

The PQ, which has spent the last 40 years pressing for Quebec’s independence, is notorious for treating its leaders roughly and Marois is just the latest chief to face internal dissent.

To break away from Canada, the party would first have to regain power in the province and then hold a referendum on secession. Its two previous referendums, in 1980 and 1995, both failed.

Marois has declined to say when a PQ government led by her would launch another referendum, prompting criticism from hard-liners that she is not serious enough about independence.

Marois said she was determined to create a new country. But in the short term, the party will stick to her policy of paving the way for Quebec independence while remaining inside Canada.

“The strategy we’ve adopted (to secede) is different from the one followed by the Parti Quebecois in the past. So give us a chance,” she said. “The previous policy did not produce all the expected results.”

An opinion poll published on Monday showed only 32 percent of Quebecers backed the idea of splitting away from Canada, indicating that another referendum now would end up in humiliating failure.

The poll also showed the damage suffered by the PQ, which pulled well ahead of the governing Liberals in popular support in May 2010 and had looked set to win the next provincial election, due by late 2013. It now trails the Liberals by 24 percent to 34 percent.

To make matters more complicated, after the searing split of legislators from the party in June, a second small group of separatist hard-liners broke away from the PQ this month and created the Nouveau Mouvement pour le Quebec (New Movement for Quebec) to push more strongly for independence.

Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Peter Galloway

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