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Parti Quebecois Leader Pauine Marois speaks to reporters at a news conference Friday, January 20, 2012 in Montreal. (Ryan Remiorz/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Parti Quebecois Leader Pauine Marois speaks to reporters at a news conference Friday, January 20, 2012 in Montreal. (Ryan Remiorz/THE CANADIAN PRESS)


Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois calls on party to close ranks Add to ...

Driven by the urgency to mend internal divisions after yet another week of infighting over her leadership, Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois is calling on her party to close ranks over the pressing need to battle Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government.

Ms. Marois will make her case against the federal Conservatives in her opening remarks on Friday during a weekend party meeting, where she will urge rank-and-file members to set aside their differences and fight what she considers the most serious threat to Quebec’s interests in decades.

“Stephen Harper is taking decisions that squarely go against our values and against our interests,” Ms. Marois said at the conclusion of two-day caucus meeting on Thursday, preparing for the larger party meeting.

An election is looming, she insisted, and the party can no longer afford bitter internal conflicts over her leadership and the strategy to achieve sovereignty.

“We don’t have any more time to lose,” she said. “We have to be united. The key word here is unity. We have to set aside our differences.”

By abolishing the gun-control registry, adopting tougher sentencing for youth offenders and being a “monarchist to the bone,” Mr. Harper has turned his back on Quebec, Ms. Marois said. With Conservatives, “it is prisons before education.”

The attacks against Ottawa may help Ms. Marois focus attention away from the divisions within the party ranks. Those who question her leadership have denounced her strategy of seeking more autonomy for the province rather than mounting an aggressive push for independence.

The strategy was hotly contested by those spearheading the drive to replace Ms. Marois with former Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe. But the attempted putsch failed after Mr. Duceppe backed down following a news report alleging the Bloc misappropriated House of Commons funds when he was party leader in Ottawa.

In the wake of Mr. Duceppe’s retreat, Ms. Marois has been dubbed the “concrete lady” in successfully fending off another round of attacks against her leadership.

Feeling more confident, she is pushing ahead with her controversial strategy, arguing that unlike the Liberals and the newly formed Coalition Avenir Quebec, the PQ, if elected, would constitute the last rampart against the Harper government.

“If Ottawa says no [to demands for more powers] it will demonstrate that it is difficult to reform federalism in order to have Quebec’s interests recognized,” she said. “And while we try to get more powers, we will work at the same time to try and convince Quebeckers … of the need to achieve sovereignty.”

Ms. Marois still firmly believes that Quebeckers aren’t ready for another referendum debate on sovereignty and remains convinced that an aggressive strategy to seek political independence at this time would be harmful to the PQ’s chances at winning the next election.

Yet her strategy of attacking the Harper government was similar to the one used by the Bloc Québécois in last year’s federal election, which ended in disaster for the party, electing only four members.

Recent public opinion polls have placed the PQ behind the CAQ and the Liberals, with Ms. Marois viewed as the least popular of he main party leaders.

But PQ insiders point to poll numbers showing that half of Quebeckers could change political allegiance, leaving the door open to what Ms. Marois hopes will evolve into a three-party race. But first, this weekend, she will try to silence those still doubtful about her leadership.

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