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Quebec MNA who quit Liberals over charter debate to run as independent

Independant MLA Fatima Houda-Pepin announces her decision to run as an independant candidate for the coming election, at a news conference, Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at the legislature in Quebec City.

Jacques Boissinot/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Dissident Quebec Liberal Fatima Houda-Pepin is making a confident run for re-election as an independent candidate in the coming provincial vote, highlighting the struggles of Quebec's Liberals with the debate over the proposed charter of secular values.

An election call is widely expected on Wednesday, setting up a vote on April 7.

Ms. Houda-Pepin represents the Montreal south shore riding of La Pinière, which she has easily won under the Liberal banner for the last six elections since 1994. In the September 2012 vote, she beat her nearest rival by 10,301 votes.

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But she was ousted from the Liberal caucus after refusing to follow party leader Philippe Couillard in his opposition to the secular charter bill.

In a news conference on Tuesday the fiery Ms. Houda-Pepin, the first Muslim woman to be elected in the Quebec National Assembly, attacked Mr. Couillard for an inconsistent position on the secular charter.

"Premier Pauline Marois was able to impose her agenda not because she is strong, but because Mr. Couillard decided he didn't want to debate the charter," Ms. Houda-Pepin said.

In a surprise move on Monday Mr. Couillard announced that the Liberal candidate in La Pinière will be Gaétan Barrette, the outgoing president of the federation of Quebec specialist physicians and former star candidate for the Coalition Avenir Quebec party in the 2012 election.

Mr. Barrette has been one of the former Liberal government's strongest critics on health care and would be a likely choice to be appointed health minister should the Liberals form the next government.

Ms. Houda-Pepin said she is convinced she can beat Dr. Barrette, even though it has been 50 years since an independent candidate has won election in Quebec.

"What does Gaétan Barrette want with the voters of La Pinière? He is coming here to get his (minister's) limousine, a limousine I refused to accept," Ms. Houda-Pepin said. "Mr. Couillard excluded a member solid in her convictions to accept a turncoat solid in his ambitions. That's the choice Mr. Couillard has made."

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Ms. Houda-Pepin added that most of the former members of the executive of the local Liberal riding association have joined her campaign. Nevertheless, the $40,000 she helped raise as a Liberal for her riding will now go to finance her opponent.

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