01/09/2012 06:21 EST | Updated 03/10/2012 05:12 EST

Francois Rebello Defection Marks Another High-Profile Parti Quebecois Loss To New Coalition Quebec Party


QUEBEC - The Parti Quebecois has lost another member in a high-profile defection to the high-flying, fledgling party that proposes a moratorium on Quebec's independence debate.

Legislature member Francois Rebello has jumped ship to the new Coalition party, which is leading in provincial public-opinion polls.

Rebello becomes the third Pequiste to join the new party, which will begin the winter legislative session with nine members.

A 41-year-old suburban Montreal MNA, Rebello is former president of Quebec's largest student group and was a prominent member of the PQ grassroots. He was an economist before entering politics and he most recently held several economy-related critic portfolios for the PQ.

Rebello announced his decision Monday to PQ Leader Pauline Marois' chief of staff; Marois was out of the country on holiday.

The new Coalition Avenir Quebec (Coalition For Quebec's Future) says it's committed to bringing together politicians of different stripes and setting aside the 40-year independence debate.

Despite the appeal of that unifying message, the Coalition's most famous members so far stem primarily from the sovereigntist camp, starting with leader Francois Legault.

The party is seeking to address that imbalance — and to bolster its claim to be a true coalition — by working to recruit prominent federalists, including former federal Liberal MP Marlene Jennings.

It's also expected to merge with the Action democratique du Quebec. Some ADQ members are fighting the move because they don't consider the new party conservative enough.

The Coalition needs 12 members to gain official party status in Quebec's national assembly.

In an open letter, published on the website of Le Devoir, Rebello explained the rationale for his decision.

He described his longtime admiration for Legault, a former airline executive with an appreciation for entrepreneurship as well as cultural issues.

Rebello also expressed his desire to see a more nationalist party defeat Jean Charest's Liberals, whom he described as weak-kneed when dealing with Ottawa.

He said he hoped to see a Coalition government focused not on left- or right-wing ideology, but on offering citizens the best services at the lowest possible tax rates.

And he said it's time to take a break from the issue that has defined Quebec politics since the early 1970s.

"You can't help but note that the sovereigntist strategy hasn't worked," Rebello wrote.

"The majority of Quebecers are not ready, for now, to vote for sovereignty. That doesn't mean sovereignty is no longer possible. Especially if Quebec improves its hand.

"If Quebecers take their economy in hand, they will become less dependent in spirit and in fact. An economy of entrepreneurs will make us more independent.

"So I am still a sovereigntist while conscious of the fact that the current stakes aren't about the holding of a referendum, but about choosing the best government led by the best premier."