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Quebec Election 2012: PQ loophole would allow sovereignty hardliners to force a referendum, CAQ…

MONTREAL—A Parti Québécois election promise to hold a popular referendum on any initiative that has the support of 15 per cent of the population would allow sovereigntist hardliners to force a third referendum on Quebecers, Coalition Avenir Québec Leader François Legault says.

In a head-to-head election debate, Legault said PQ Leader Pauline Marois’s little-noticed campaign promise is actually a loophole that could result in a question to pull Quebec out of Canada being forced on the province even though most Quebecers do not consider it a priority.

The PQ platform states that the “popular referendum initiative” could be applied to any matter outside of fiscal matters, of which the government would maintain exclusive authority.

“If there are 15 per cent of the signatures, can you stop a referendum?” Legault asked Marois in the last of four televised election debates. “Can you stop it? Yes or no?”

Under fire, Marois shot back: “I won’t stop those who want to have a referendum.”

After the debate, she told reporters that the campaign promise would only compel a PQ government to consult Quebecers to gauge the interest in holding a referendum.

She said something compelling the province to enter into a formal referendum would have to have equal support in all parts of the province, not just sovereigntist enclaves in big cities.

Legault suggested that the promise of a popular referendum initiative would risks allowing Quebec’s “pur et dur” sovereigntist radicals to force the issue.

“If the caribou lead us over the cliff, you won’t stop it?” he asked Marois.

“I have confidence in the people of Quebec,” she replied. “For me to consult the population, I’m not scared of that. It’s the most grand gesture you can have in a democracy.”

The exchange was the highlight in a battle between two bitter political enemies. Both have served as senior ministers in previous PQ governments, but Legault quit the party in 2009 and last November founded the CAQ, a party he says is neither sovereigntist nor federalist, but nationalist.

He is campaigning on a promise of change and has boasted that he owes no one favours and has no alliances except with the voters. That’s in contrast to the PQ, which he says is too reliant on support from the province’s powerful unions to effectively tackle the problems facing Quebec.

“You’re the queen of the status quo,” Legault said.

The CAQ promises a doctor for every Quebecer within a year, if elected, by forcing doctors to increase their patient load to 1,000 from about 700.

“Impossible,” said Marois. “I won’t bring out my magic wand. It won’t work.”

Legault said the popular referendum initiative, which could be applied to any issue with 15-per-cent support in Quebec, risks paralyzing the province for the duration of a PQ mandate.

“It will be chaos in Quebec,” he said. “Quebec will be immobilized for four years.”

thestar.com – News