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quebec politics

Kamal Lutfi, ex-candidate for the CAQPierre Charbonneau

The upstart right-wing party that may play kingmaker in the upcoming provincial election must get off the fence on the question of Quebec independence, according to a staunch federalist kicked off the party's slate.

Kamal G. Lutfi was forced to step down as a candidate for the Coalition avenir Québec on the weekend after he accused separatists of being racist in a Twitter dustup. Party leader François Legault, himself a long-time sovereigntist, said such incendiary and baseless accusations could not be tolerated.

Mr. Legault has tried to build a coalition of sovereigntists and federalists who believe in smaller government and lower taxes by promising to avoid taking a stand on Quebec's "national question" for at least 10 years.

Mr. Lutfi is a long-time Liberal activist who worked for the federalist side in the 1995 referendum and claims he was one of the whistle blowers who accused scrutineers with pro-independence sympathies of tossing out No ballots.

He says Mr. Legault's position is untenable because ultimately all Quebec politics still revolve around the question.

"I feel 100 per cent that he's sitting on the fence and not admitting what he is," Mr. Lutfi said in an interview. "Mr. Legault has to decide where he sits, and put it in writing. People would resign from his party, whichever way he chooses, but at least it would be honest."

After a rocket party launch that saw it top opinion polls last year, Mr. Legault's party has settled into a distant third place – similar to where the Action démocratique du Québec languished before being swallowed by the CAQ. But even if the party finishes third, it may have an important role to play. The most recent polls have shown a minority government, either Parti Québécois or Liberal, is a likely outcome.

With an election call possible as early as next week, the new party has struggled with candidate resignations and controversies in social media. The party announced the hiring of communications and crisis-management guru Richard Thibault on Monday.

Through a spokesman, Mr. Legault referred to a statement where he apologized and described Mr. Latfi's allegations of racism as unacceptable and "contrary to the values of [the party]."

During the weekend fight on Twitter, where Mr. Lutfi has been active for about a week, the financial planner described confronting racism during a brief stint working at the Desjardins Group financial institution.

He said he felt "black" facing the racism of separatist co-workers. Sovereigntists are often opposed to the federal policy of multiculturalism, saying it creates ghettos and was mainly intended to water down Quebec nationalism.

Mr. Lufti described the position as the "racist discourse of the separatists."

"Not all separatists are racists. But I can't tell you how often I've felt pushed aside by people who say they want a country, but there's no room for me. I won't stand for it," he said. "When they separate, what are they going to do? Throw me out?"

Mr. Lutfi, who came to Quebec from Lebanon 37 years ago, said he was drawn to the CAQ because he's keen to reduce the power of Quebec unions and to get its economy rolling. He also has no patience for the student protesters who have dominated the province's political agenda for much of 2012.

"These students shouldn't be in the street, their parents should be telling them to get back to school."