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PQ leader Pauline Marois gestures as she talk to Globe reporter Rheal Seguin during a site down interview at her office in the National Assembly in Quebec City on April 12, 2011. (Francis Vachon for The Globe and Mail)
PQ leader Pauline Marois gestures as she talk to Globe reporter Rheal Seguin during a site down interview at her office in the National Assembly in Quebec City on April 12, 2011. (Francis Vachon for The Globe and Mail)

PQ leader predicts another sovereignty referendum Add to ...

Pauline Marois doesn't know when and can't even say how it will come about, but the Parti Québécois leader is convinced that there will be another referendum on sovereignty and that she will be the one to hold it.

In her bid to become the first woman elected premier of Quebec, Ms. Marois will have to persuade her followers, especially sovereigntists outside the party, that she has the credentials to fight for the province's political independence. She will make a pitch for that this weekend when she faces a vote of confidence at the first PQ convention in six years.

"We have to turn the page and define a new approach, a new strategy. And that is the proposal that is in our program, that of a sovereigntist government that will not be waiting for the big night to arrive, but will seek it, prepare it and work toward holding a referendum," Ms. Marois said in an interview.

The party's plan to be discussed at the convention includes updating the more than 170 studies completed before the 1995 referendum on the impact of Quebec sovereignty. The studies covered everything from creating an army to how federal bureaucrats would be integrated in a sovereign Quebec.

The convention will also vote on a motion from party delegates calling for the creation of a permanent commission on the means to achieve sovereignty.

"My only objection to this motion is that I should be the one to determine who will sit on this commission," said Ms. Marois, who added that she is reluctant to commit public funds to the exercise. "The second thing [with the motion]is that I am not at ease with an open strategy that is placed on the public stage ... The disagreement is there and we will debate it."

Another controversy involves a proposed policy to bar both francophones and immigrant students who graduate from French-language high schools from attending English-language colleges. Some party members oppose adopting such a policy, and Ms. Marois will attempt to ease their objections by proposing that colleges offer all francophone students the right to a full college semester in English.

Ms. Marois said she is watching what is happening in the rest of Canada, especially during the federal election campaign, and is more convinced than ever that the "two nations" are slowly drifting apart.

"We no longer have influence, we are no longer heard in Ottawa, and Quebec is hardly ever mentioned in the rest of Canada," Ms. Marois said.

She said she recognizes that if her party forms the next government, it would be an uphill battle to mobilize Quebeckers to support sovereignty. Yet in the same breath, Ms. Marois claims that victory is within her grasp.

"People don't believe us, but based on the 1995 [referendum]question that includes a partnership with the rest of Canada, we are at 50 per cent [provincewide]... we are at 56 per cent with francophone voters," Ms. Marois said of the results of recent party polling. "All we need are the right words, the right arguments."

Ms. Marois said she would build those arguments by implementing what she has called "sovereignty governance," in which a PQ government would demand from Ottawa full powers over areas such as culture, communications, economic development and employment insurance. A PQ government, she said, would reinforce the province's language law, adopt a constitution, table a bill outlining Quebec citizenship and adopt a charter defining Quebec's secular society.

"We are breaking with the wait-and-see policy, we are breaking with waiting for winning conditions and we are beginning our march towards building a country," Ms. Marois said.

Her strongest critics within the sovereignty movement say her plan would amount to nothing more than achieving more provincial autonomy rather than outright sovereignty.

"The PQ leadership didn't show all the determination that the independence movement needed," Quebec MNA Amir Khadir, co-leader of the left-wing pro-sovereignty Quebec Solidaire party, said of Ms. Marois' hesitation to adopt an aggressive plan to promote sovereignty.

Former PQ premier Jacques Parizeau warned recently against devising strategies that fail to convince Quebeckers of the PQ's determination to achieve the final objective.

Mr. Parizeau said it isn't enough to talk about sovereignty, the party needs a plan to get there. He criticized the PQ for not preparing for the next referendum and not committing public funds to promote it. Unless the PQ can tell voters why Quebec must be sovereign, Mr. Parizeau said the goal can never be achieved.

The party platform debated at the convention this weekend will seek to mollify the critics and reassure the skeptics. The more than 1,500 delegates, many of whom were chosen because of their loyalty to Ms. Marois, will likely give the leader a massive show of support, projected by some party insiders to be above the crucial 80 per cent mark.

Since becoming leader four years ago, Ms. Marois purged the party of its most outspoken critics. She now exercises full control and is on the cusp of having a platform that she says will be moderate enough to refute arguments from political opponents that the PQ has become too radical.

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