08/23/2012 05:01 EDT | Updated 10/23/2012 05:12 EDT

PQ leader on defensive over referendum worries

Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois was on the defensive Thursday over comments she made about the possibility a referendum could be forced by 15 per cent of voters.

At a campaign stop in Montreal on Thursday, Marois was faced numerous questions regarding her proposal for citizen-initiated referendums.

The PQ platform states citizens could initiate a referendum with a petition signed by at least 15 per cent of voters.

In Wednesday's televised debate with Coalition Avenir Québec Leader François Legault, Marois was asked if 15 per cent of the population signed a petition demanding a sovereignty referendum, whether there was anything she could do to prevent it from going ahead.

During a press conference on Thursday, Marois insisted the National Assembly has the final word and that, if elected, she has the responsibility to decline the demand if the timing isn't right.

"We have the possibility to accept this demand, but we also have the possibility to refuse this demand," she said.

Marois added that her party would vote to set a minimum percentage of voters that would be required to sign a petition in order to go ahead with a sovereignty referendum.

However, Legault said he wonders if all PQ candidates share that view. On Thursday, he accused Marois of having caved to more radical elements in her party.

"Bernard Drainville, he's one of the leaders in the Parti Québécois," said Legault. "He's convinced that once you get 15 per cent, it's clear you have a referendum."

Reacting to Wednesday's debate, Liberal Leader Jean Charest said he felt the duel between Marois and Legault played well for his party. He reiterated his message that Legault is not a good option for federalist voters.

"Here are two separatists who don't agree with the referendum strategy, but they both agree because they are sovereigntists that there needs to be a referendum," said Charest.

The Liberal leader added that all this talk about a referendum would ultimately benefit his party.