MONTREAL - The conversion of Francois Legault away from the cause of Quebec independence appears more definitive, and complete, than ever.
The leader of the upstart Coalition party has been saying for months that he will not work toward another referendum if he wins the Sept. 4 provincial election, because he wants to attract Quebecers of all stripes and co-operate on tackling other pressing issues.
But now Legault says that at this point he would actively side against independence. He was asked at a news conference how he would vote, if a referendum were held right now.
"I would vote No," Legault replied Wednesday.
"Because I think that right now, it's not the good time to do so and it wouldn't be good for our nation to have a referendum right now. (So) of course, I wouldn't vote Yes for the next 10 years."
That completes a dramatic swing, arguably even a 180-degree one, for Legault, who just several years ago was a Parti Quebecois cabinet minister and then a leadership candidate who called independence an urgent national priority.
Some of Legault's former allies were dismayed by his remarks. Some speculated that his new policy position was an attempt to chip away at the Liberals' Anglo federalist base.
Legault has courted the Anglo vote, and he was rewarded with a surprising endorsement — albeit a qualified one — on Wednesday.
Robert Libman, who led the anglo-rights Equality party when it won four seats in 1989, now says English-speaking Quebecers should consider voting for Legault in some ridings.
He told The Canadian Press that voting for Legault would be a good way to express displeasure with the governing Liberals.
However, he urged Anglos to do it carefully, and only in ridings where there was no chance of the Parti Quebecois being elected as a result.
The other mildly surprising statement on the national question Wednesday came from PQ Leader Pauline Marois. She invited disgruntled federalists to vote for her staunchly pro-independence party if they want to punish the government over ethics scandals.
If there's a referendum later, she said, they can vote No.
When the election campaign began a week ago, polls suggest there was a tight three-way race.
''I can't be any clearer. Sovereignty is no longer on the table. The Coalition avenir Quebec will never promote Quebec sovereignty. Is that clear enough?' <a href="http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/canada/facts-about-caqs-francois-legault-in-his-first-campaign-as-a-party-leader-164601676.html" target="_hplink">Source: Canadian Press</a> <em>Coalition Avenir Quebec Leader Francois Legault responds to reporters questions following a party caucus meeting Tuesday, June 12, 2012 at the legislature in Quebec City. </em>
Bachelor's degree in business administration and master's in business administration, both from l'Ecole des hautes etudes commerciales (HEC). <em>Coalition Avenir Quebec party leader Francois Legault, centre, calls on a candidate to come and join them as he and other candidates stand in front of his campaign bus in Quebec City on Sunday, July 29, 2012. Legault unveiled his campaign bus and the slogan for the expected provincial election. </em>
Auditor with Ernst & Young from 1978 to 1984; co-founded Air Transat in 1986. <em>Francois Legault, leader of the Coalition Avenir Quebec, comments Tuesday, May 15, 2012 at the legislature in Quebec City on the ongoing conflict with students over tuition hikes. </em>
Elected to legislature in 1998 as member of Parti Quebecois; minister of commerce and industry in 1998; minister of education from 1998 to 2002; minister of health in 2002 and 2003; finance critic from 2003 to 2009; co-founded Coalition avenir Quebec in 2011.Personal: Married with two children. <em>Coalition Avenir Quebec party leader Francois Legault waves as he walks out of his campaign bus in Quebec City on Sunday, July 29, 2012. Legault unveiled his campaign bus and the slogan for the expected provincial election. </em>
Elected to legislature in 1998 as member of Parti Quebecois; minister of commerce and industry in 1998; minister of education from 1998 to 2002; minister of health in 2002 and 2003; finance critic from 2003 to 2009; co-founded Coalition avenir Quebec in 2011.Personal: Married with two children. <em>CAQ leader Francois Legault responds to questions as he introduces candidates for the upcoming Quebec elections during a news conference in Montreal on Tuesday, July 31, 2012. </em>