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Parti Quebecois election post-mortem puts spotlight on sovereignty

Quebec Premier Pauline Marois looks up toward members of her staff and cabinet at the end of her last news conference on April 16 at the Premier's office in Quebec City.

Jacques Boissinot/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Parti Quebecois must be more clear about its sovereigntist ambitions if it wants to achieve success, several party members argued at an election post-mortem on Saturday.

The PQ called last month's vote in the hope of securing a majority government, but instead suffered a devastating loss to Philippe Couillard's Liberals.

The result — the party's worst electoral defeat since 1970 with a popular vote of just 25 per cent — has led to soul-searching within the party about the best way forward.

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Rejean Hebert, a former health minister who lost his seat in the election, is among those who believe there was too much confusion about the PQ's stance on independence during the campaign.

"I think we need to have a position that's much clearer on sovereignty, where we can explain our option and not speculate on an eventual referendum," he said at a Laval hotel, where about 150 PQ members gathered for a closed-door meeting.

That same position was outlined by one of the movement's elder statesmen, Jacques Parizeau, in a lengthy newspaper column published Saturday.

Parizeau argued in Le Journal de Montreal that sovereignty is the PQ's raison d'etre and it should be a focus, even during an election campaign.

It shouldn't be used as a "kind of flag that's waved from time to time to keep the faithful in the ranks," Parizeau wrote.

Like Hebert, PQ president Raymond Archambault agreed with Parizeau's take.

"It's a good message," he said in Laval.

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The PQ often shies away from talk of independence during an election for fear of losing votes over the polarizing issue.

Sovereignty wasn't expected to be a focus of the April 7 vote, but it was thrust to the forefront after star candidate Pierre Karl Peladeau declared his commitment to making Quebec a country.

Marois, who stepped down as PQ leader after losing her seat, made a surprise appearance at the event but didn't speak to the media.

The former premier has been out of the public eye since bidding an emotional goodbye to politics last month.

During the election campaign, Marois took heat for not giving a clear answer to questions about the timeline for another referendum, saying repeatedly she would call one when the population was ready.

Couillard, meanwhile, hammered away at the notion that a PQ majority would mean another referendum and a decade of economic instability.

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