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Coalition Avenir Quebec leader Francois Legault responds to questions the day after the election of a Liberal majority government Tuesday, April 8, 2014 in Montreal.

The Canadian Press

The threat of a referendum on sovereignty became the ballot question in the Quebec election and allowed the Liberals to win by default, said Coalition Avenir Quebec Leader François Legault.

He said Tuesday that while the Parti Québécois will hold another divisive debate on sovereignty and when to hold a referendum, the CAQ will position itself as the real alternative to the Liberals. No longer should the Liberals be allowed to win an election without any effort simply by using the threat of another PQ referendum, he argued.

"This was a quasi-referendum election and I deplore it," Mr. Legault said. "The imaginary country harms in many ways the real country. We need to be aware of this and we need to reflect upon it."

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Mr. Legault concluded that people were afraid that if the PQ won a majority government it would have held to another referendum. He argued that he will make sure that this doesn't happen again when Quebeckers will be called to vote in the next election to be held at a fixed date in October 2018.

"When polls showed a PQ majority government, when they saw Pierre Karl Péladeau with his fist in the air saying he wanted Quebec to be a country, people found themselves in a referendum election," he said.

Mr. Legault predicted that PQ members will tear each other apart trying to devise another strategy to achieve sovereignty while the vast majority of Quebeckers want nothing to do with another referendum.

As a former PQ cabinet minister who was fed up with the referendum debate, he invited PQ members to follow the same path he took when he quit the party in 2009 to create the CAQ and put sovereignty on the backburner.

"The PQ has to understand that people don't want a referendum. If they don't exclude a referendum they are in trouble. If they propose not to hold one, they are in trouble. I don't know what the solution is. I didn't have one in 2009 and that explains the gains we made," Mr. Legault said at a news conference.

The PQ infighting will allow the CAQ to assume the role of official opposition, he said, even though it won't hold the title. The CAQ received 23 per cent of the vote and elected 22 members to the 125-seat National Assembly, while the PQ obtained a slight edge with 25 per cent of the vote that allowed them to elect 30 candidates.

With the resignation of PQ leader Pauline Marois, the party will soon be entering a leadership race where Pierre Karl Péladeau, the major shareholder of the Quebecor Media empire, will likely be a potential candidate. The CAQ expects that Mr. Péladeau or whoever ends up leading the party will soon find itself facing the same dilemma as Ms. Marois.

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"The Parti Québécois will be stuck in a major discussion about the referendum, I really don't see them in the game," Mr. Legault said.

In the event some PQ members become frustrated with their own internal wrangling, Mr. Legault said they will be welcome to join the CAQ caucus. But he refused to say whether the CAQ will attempt to sway PQ members in the coming months.

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