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Marois steers campaign away from Quebec sovereignty to woo ‘disgruntled federalists’

Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois walks to a news conference on a wharf in Saint-Simeon, Que., on Wednesday, August 8, 2012.

Jacques Boissinot/THE CANADIAN PRESS

If federalist Quebeckers want to clean house and rid the province of corruption, they should back the Parti Québécois, Leader Pauline Marois said Wednesday in an attempt to frame the election as a chance to change governments, not take sides in a referendum sovereignty.

According to Ms. Marois, the objective of the Sept. 4 vote was to send the "corrupt" government of Liberal Leader Jean Charest packing. She said there would be plenty of time after that to debate the matter of sovereignty.

"I hope that we can hold a referendum as soon as possible. My agenda is open. When we will hold one, we won't sneak it in. There will be debates. And if federalists don't agree with the direction it takes, they will be free to express it," Ms. Marois said.

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From the outset, the PQ has attempted to stop the Coalition Avenir Québec from attracting federalists who are irritated by the allegations of corruption haunting the Liberal party but can't come to terms with the PQ sovereignty agenda. By insisting that the election wasn't about sovereignty, Ms. Marois was appealing to federalists who may be hesitating in supporting a new and inexperienced CAQ as an alternative.

"The PQ is a wide coalition with people from all walks of life. Disgruntled federalists can also vote for the Parti Québécois. I've been saying it from the beginning of the campaign. We are not holding a referendum on the future of government. This is referendum on a bad government that hasn`t served the interests of Quebec, a corrupt government, a government that has dilapidated public funds," Ms. Marois said while campaigning in her home riding of Charlevoix-Côte-de-Beaupré.

The PQ strategy calls for demanding several new powers from Ottawa before launching a debate on holding a referendum on sovereignty. On Wednesday, Ms. Marois unveiled how she plans to intitate negotiations with Prime Minister Stephen Harper`s government to gain full provincial control over the federal employment insurance program.

A PQ government would demand Quebec`s withdrawal from the program with full financial compensation. Ms. Marois said that since the program was originally under provincial jurisdiction, Quebec has the authority to take it back.

"In the past we succeeded in negotiating control over the parental leave program. I think it is possible to have discussion. The only thing we are asking is to transfer over the responsibility. They (Ottawa) have nothing to pay," Ms. Marois said. "Quebec was once responsible for this insurance plan. So I think there is a real possibility to change it with the federal government."

The PQ leader noted that at least 70 municipalities in Quebec support the demand that the province to control employment insurance program, which Ms. Marois said would be used to develop regional economic initiatives especially in rural communities where new jobs are scarce.

And if the Harper government refuses to negotiate, Ms. Marois said it will just be another indication that "Canada was a losing condition" for Quebec and would reinforce the need to achieve political independence.

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On Wednesday, Coalition Avenir Québec party Leader François Legault said he would vote against a referendum on sovereignty.  For Ms. Marois, this was further proof of how incoherent Mr. Legault has become since launching his new party saying sovereignty should be put on the backburner for at least a decade.

When Mr. Legault, a former PQ minister, was the party finance critic in opposition, Ms. Marois recalled that he had simulated a budget to show how a sovereign Quebec would be managed during the first year of independence.

"Mr. Legault was once a great defender of Quebec independence. In fact he once believed that Quebec was absolutely unmanageable in a federal system. He then prepared the budget of year-one. In life, you need to be a bit coherent. That is not his case," Ms. Marois said.

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