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.
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