Canadian election rivals tout anti-separatism

Updated: 2011-04-18 13:20


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OTTAWA,Canada -- Hitting the campaign trails on Sunday ahead of the May 2 federal election, both leaders of Canada's two largest parties claimed to be best-positioned to fight Quebec separatism, which appears to be gaining strength after more than a decade of relative quiet.

Separatists are stepping up rhetoric in Quebec where French-speaking residents make up about 80 percent of the population. The province is now governed by a pro-federation party, but the separatist Parti Quebecois appears to be gaining power. It now holds 49 of the province's 75 seats in the federal parliament in Ottawa.

Prime Minister and Leader of Conservative Party Stephen Harper told voters in the Pacific coast city of Vancouver that they should give his party a strong majority in the parliament so the country could be better protected from Quebec separatists.

Harper, who spent the 23rd day of the campaign on Sunday trying to win swing seats in southwest British Columbia, said the Quebec separatists want a weak minority government in the parliament so they can hold another referendum to break up the country.

In 1995, Quebec voted 51 per cent to 49 per cent to stay in Canada. The pro-Canada side won by just 50,000 votes.

Harper said Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe "has said that they are moving towards, they are walking towards his objective -- the sovereignty of Quebec and another Quebec referendum. And he says step one to achieve that is to stop a federal Conservative majority government in Ottawa."

"Step one is to weaken the country, have a weak government in Ottawa, and that is another reason why Canadians, we believe, must choose a strong, stable, national Conservative government," Harper said.

Harper said an opposition coalition supported by the Bloc Quebecois would give the separatists and opportunity to weaken the national government and position Quebec for independence.

"The choice is not a coalition in the abstract. The choice is very clear. It is between having a weak Liberal government that will be propped up in power by the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois or having a strong Conservative majority."

Harper's major rival, Liberal Party Leader Michael Ignatieff was also campaigning in Vancouver, saying he would "fight and defend" the unity of Canada. He accused the prime minister of  "fearmongering" about the threat posed by separatists.

Ignatieff campaigned in British Columbia with former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin, before heading to the northern city of Yellowknife.

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While campaigning with Martin, Ignatgieff attacked Harper's financial record by reminding voters that Martin had balanced the country's budget before he was defeated by Harper in 2006.

Duceppe, the target of Ignatieff's and Harper's criticism, was at a weekend congress of the provincial separatist party, hoping to recruit activists at the Parti Quebecois convention.

Duceppe did not deny that an independent Quebec is still the object of his political career.

"My goal is to make Quebec a country," said Duceppe. "I came into politics for that, and I am working very hard to achieve it."

In another development, New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton was campaigning in the Atlantic coast city of Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he attacked the leaders of the two larger parties for their healthcare policies.

He said Canadians should give his party, which has never been placed better than the third in any national election, a chance to govern.

"I think it's a question of emphasizing the fact that people have a choice in this election," he said. "And that the old idea that you have to choose one of the old parties that have let you down in the past is not valid. And I think more and more people are coming to realize that, as well."

Elizabeth May, Leader of Canada' s fifth largest party -- Green Party-- attended a rally with Vancouver-area candidates Sunday evening, then left on a tour through the Rocky Mountains and into the western cities of Edmonton and Calgary later this week.

May has spent most of the campaigning in her constituency, where she hopes to win the Green Party's first seat in the House of Commons.

A poll released Sunday by Nanos Research showed little change. The Conservatives continue to hold the support of 39 percent of the voters. The Liberals have 29 percent, and the NDP are up slightly, with 19 percent support.

Harper's Conservative government was defeated March 25 by the opposition parties in a nonconfidence vote in the House of Commons, which found the government in contempt of the parliament.

Parliament was dissolved the following day and Canada's 41st federal election, the fourth in the past seven years, is slated for May 2 with 308 seats to be contested in the House of Commons.


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