03/01/2014 07:00 EST | Updated 05/01/2014 05:59 EDT

Tom Mulcair auditions for role as new 'Captain Canada'

Ahead of an almost certain election call in Quebec next week, NDP leader Tom Mulcair is brandishing his credentials as the federal leader best placed to take on a Parti Québécois government.

"The NDP was the first party to get rid of the separatists," Mulcair said in an interview on CBC Radio's The House. "The Bloc Québécois had had a majority of seats in Quebec — we got rid of them."

Having read the same polls as most, Mulcair believes a PQ majority headed by Pauline Marois is a very real possibility.

"If, tragically, Madam Marois should get a majority — I have absolutely no doubt that she will head for a referendum."

Marois has said, should her government be re-elected, Quebec would resume its "collective reflection."

She has also promised a "white paper" on the future of the province, including whether or not to hold another referendum on sovereignty.

Mulcair believes it is a foregone conclusion that a PQ majority under Marois means another referendum.

"Look, this is the last hurrah of that generation," he said.

The NDP's 2011 election success in Quebec was due not only to the charms of its late leader, Jack Layton, but also because the party drew together a broad coalition of political factions that include former separatists and a large number of "soft nationalists."

Perhaps for that reason (and his own bitter split with the Quebec Liberal Party in 2006), Mulcair banned his MPs from choosing sides in the last Quebec election just 18 months ago.

It's a rule Mulcair is likely to invoke again this time around.

He chafes at suggestions his loyalty to Canada is somehow dimmed because of his attachment to Quebec.

"I fought in the 1980 referendum. I fought in the 1995 referendum. I have a proud record of standing up for Canada," he said.

In looking to express the often difficult position in which Quebec federalists find themselves, Mulcair reaches for Shakespeare rather than Molière.

"I can't cleft my heart in twain and throw away the worser half."