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