08/27/2012 05:25 EDT | Updated 10/27/2012 05:12 EDT

Quebec Election 2012: Parti Quebecois Leader Seeks Global Support For Quebec Independence

Flickr Parti Québécois officiel
QUEBEC - Pauline Marois, who could be elected premier of Quebec next week, has shared some details about her plan to achieve international recognition of an independent Quebec.

The Parti Quebecois leader and current election front-runner suggests she'll adopt a less aggressive approach than the one used before the 1995 referendum.

In an interview on her campaign bus, Marois told The Canadian Press that she will be pleased to talk about her independence plans with foreign governments.

But she said she will not work to line up promises from them to recognize an independent Quebec immediately after a sovereignty vote.

"My objective isn't to go to London or Brussels to say: 'I'm here to talk to you about sovereignty,'" Marois said in the recent interview.

"But every time I go there I will talk about it. That's the difference."

That makes her approach less forceful than the one used by Jacques Parizeau. The former PQ premier has revealed that before the last vote on independence, in 1995, he had worked to ensure that France would recognize Quebec as a country if his side won the referendum.

The Supreme Court's historic ruling on secession in 1998 said a unilateral declaration of independence, while unconstitutional, could be rendered legitimate if supported by the international community.

That happened to have been Parizeau's plan. While his referendum question was actually about creating a partnership with Canada he hoped to quickly parlay a Yes victory into an independent Quebec, thanks to international support. His side ultimately lost the vote by less than a percentage point.

But that close result, and the ambiguity of Parizeau's ballot question, eventually prompted the Chretien government in Ottawa to table its Clarity Act, which sets basic ground rules for future plebiscites.

The federal law stipulates that the Parliament of Canada has a right to judge whether a referendum question has been clear, and whether the vote has produced a clear result, before a province can secede.

There are other major differences between the current political climate and 1995: support for sovereignty is well off its historic level of the early 1990s and Marois, unlike Parizeau, is not promising to hold a referendum in her first mandate.

Also, recent governments of France have been more supportive of Canadian unity than they once were.

In 2009, around the time of the release of his memoirs, Parizeau told The Canadian Press it was critical to line up foreign support so that Quebec could be recognized as a country following a Yes-side victory in a referendum.

He said he started working to secure that support the moment he won the leadership of the PQ in 1988. He said he was certain France would quickly recognize an independent Quebec, and was also confident that the United States would respect the result.

But Parizeau also said that such support could not be taken for granted in the future and would need to be cultivated, through diplomatic channels.

Marois said discussing independence would be one of her priorities when travelling abroad, even if it wasn't the prime reason for her trip.

"So I won't go for that — but each time I go (abroad) I will always speak about it," Marois said in the interview last Friday.

Polls suggest the PQ leader has a clear lead, with just one week to go until the Sept. 4 election.

A possible wild car left in the campaign is whether student unrest flares up as a political issue. As university students returned to class Monday there were numerous courses cancelled, with some tense exchanges between university staff and protesters wearing masks.

It remained unclear whether authorities would apply the Charest Liberals' Bill 78, which sets stiff penalties for blocking classrooms.

What was clear was that, whoever wins the election, party leaders will be treading carefully when dealing with student groups.

Marois has been vague about how she would replace the tuition hikes imposed by the Charest government. She worked Monday to downplay the possibility that she might cancel tuition altogether.

She says she favours cancelling the increases and indexing them to the rate of inflation and will call a summit to discuss the issue.

She appeared Monday to have ruled out the zero-tuition option — the one favoured by the more militant student protesters.

"I am telling the people of Quebec and students that if they support the Parti Quebecois we will eliminate the hikes, although I cannot tell the people of Quebec that it's possible to have free tuition."

Her opponent, Coalition Leader Francois Legault, also expressed a willingness to negotiate. He says his plan for a $200-a-year hike — down from the Charest Liberals' $254 increases — is only a "proposal."

Legault said he was also open to discussing bursaries or tuition levels. However, he said he could not back any plan that would increase taxes.

Surprisingly, nothing was said about the student conflict Monday by Liberal Leader Jean Charest — the leader who, some pundits believe, has most to gain if the issue resurfaces.

At a news conference early in the day, Charest did talk about language. The premier made it clear that he supports the province's language law being applied to federally chartered companies in Quebec.

The position is the same as the federal NDP's. The Harper Tories have also indicated a willingness to look into the issue — although few specifics have been announced.

Charest said he was ready to push that discussion with Ottawa.

"The federal Parliament ... has after all recognized Quebec as a nation. Fine. Let's give those words meaning," Charest said.

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