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Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois speaks to students during an election campaign stop at a CEGEP in Saint-Hyacinthe, Que., Thursday, August 30, 2012. (Graham Hughes/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois speaks to students during an election campaign stop at a CEGEP in Saint-Hyacinthe, Que., Thursday, August 30, 2012. (Graham Hughes/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

‘It is time for sovereigntists to begin the march,’ Marois tells Montreal rally Add to ...

The time has come for sovereigntists to begin their march forward, Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois told a crowd of thousands – inviting her supporters to take the first step with the election of a PQ majority government.

The PQ held its biggest rally of the campaign on Thursday night in Montreal, with more than 2,000 people attending a boisterous evening of speeches and songs, interrupted with chants of “We want a country.”

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The surprise guest of the evening was popular television host Julie Snyder, the wife of Quebecor Media Inc. president Pierre-Karl Péladeau. For Ms. Snyder, what is at stake in this campaign is the election of the first female premier of Quebec, rather than a battle for sovereignty, which she mentioned only in passing.

“A woman is a man’s future. And a woman is also Quebec’s future. And that woman is Pauline Marois,” Ms. Snyder told crowd.

The evening’s performance also came with a warning to the PQ Leader: The call for sovereignty and change made during last spring’s student strike and protest movement must be followed by concrete action.

“We will be very vigilant,” said popular Quebec singer and songwriter Michel Rivard. “We will not forget what the streets taught us last spring.”

Ms. Marois reassured the crowd, saying she would live up to their expectations.

“Don’t let me down. I will never abandon you.”

She said that the election next Tuesday will be a “historic moment,” one that will allow Quebeckers “to take back control of their destiny.”

“Victory is at hand,” Ms. Marois said.

“We form a nation in our own right. My only allegiance is to the people. It is this people which speaks French and has kept up the resistance for centuries that I will serve. For me it goes without saying. We have no excuses for being who we are,” she told a cheering crowd.

Ms. Marois stressed the urgency to protect the French language with tougher legislation and defended the need to adopt a charter of Quebec secularism that would bar public servants from wearing religious symbols except the crucifix.

“We have the right to defend our language,” she said. “We have the right and even the moral obligation to affirm our values. That is why we will adopt a charter of secularism.”

The controversial charter has raised concerns with several religious groups and ethnic communities. Ms. Marois attempted to reassure them with the promise of more funding and the means to help integrate minority groups.

“We have a duty towards newcomers and that is to properly welcome them,” she said. “One day we will all be part of the founding people of a sovereign Quebec. Together we will create a racially mixed and closely knit country.”

In the final days of the campaign, the PQ is attempting to create momentum enough to mobilize the ground troops needed to get the vote out during next Tuesday’s election. The party said it requires a strong voter turnout if it hopes to win enough of the close races in predominantly francophone ridings to form a majority government. And Ms. Marois called for the mobilization of sovereigntists to continue after the election.

“We are almost there. The election is in five days and this date will mark the beginning of a huge mobilization,” she said. “It is time for sovereigntists to begin the march.”

Despite the strong nationalist rhetoric, there was little mention by the PQ Leader of how she plans to achieve her goal of creating a sovereign country. She outlined the need to fight Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government in order to defend Quebec’s interests, as well as promising more social justice and a tax break for the middle class.

“More than ever the Stephen Harper government is reminding Quebeckers that Canada was not their country,” she said.

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