01/10/2012 11:54 EST | Updated 03/11/2012 05:12 EDT

PQ defector to new party: let's talk about independence again at a later date

ST-CONSTANT, Que. - The latest Parti Quebecois defector to a popular new political party says he's looking forward to seeing sovereigntists and federalists put aside decades of acrimony to work together — at least for a while.

Francois Rebello became on Tuesday the ninth sitting MNA to join the ranks of the new Coalition for Quebec's Future, which is leading opinion polls.

The new party has no official position on independence, the one issue that has defined Quebec politics since the 1970s. It says it wants to give the debate a rest for a while.

Rebello told a news conference near Montreal that he remains a committed sovereigntist and that he hopes Quebec develops enough confidence to seek independence someday.

But for now, he says, he's excited by the idea that Quebecers who support and oppose independence can work side by side within a political party, the same way they co-operate daily in regular workplaces.

"We can work together — even with federalists," Rebello said, with a beaming Coalition Leader Francois Legault standing by his side.

"It's a pleasure for me. Like many of you, in your place of work, people work together — federalists, sovereigntists work together for the betterment of their business, of their organization. Well, we in government also need to be able to work together for the wellbeing of Quebecers.

"We can strengthen Quebec as much as possible and, after that, every avenue is open — including that of sovereignty."

The prominent 41-year-old MNA, a former economist, will be responsible for preparing a green-economy strategy for the party.

But the new party's political opponents pointed to one potential weakness: for a self-styled "coalition," this new party's most famous members are mainly sovereigntists.

Premier Jean Charest was eagerly sharing that perception Tuesday.

In a political message he may keep repeating in the leadup to the next election, expected between this spring and fall 2012, Charest depicted the new party as a Parti Quebecois clone.

"I'm not hearing about any Liberals who are joining Mr. Legault's party because he's a left-wing sovereigntist," Charest said.

The new Legault-led party is depending on support from both the traditional Liberal-federalist and PQ-sovereigntist camps, and Charest is hoping to keep his support from bleeding over.

The Coalition, meanwhile, is working to recruit candidates from both sides of the federalist-sovereigntist divide in order build its credibility as a party that all Quebecers can comfortably vote for.

Its most prominent federalist members so far are backroom operators with ties to the federal Liberal party. The party let it be known last week that it hoped to recruit longtime federal Liberal MP Marlene Jennings.