08/31/2012 11:49 EDT | Updated 10/31/2012 05:12 EDT

Pauline Marois: Quebec Election Front-Runner Plans To Contact Harper About Quebec Powers

MONTREAL - With a steady lead in the polls, Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois is already sketching out plans for her first weeks in office and they include a phone call to Ottawa.

The pro-independence leader, who is the front-runner in the leadup to Tuesday's provincial election, says she'd take a few days to prepare a cabinet.

Then she says she would contact Prime Minister Stephen Harper about transferring powers to Quebec — in areas like employment insurance, language and communications.

"In the days that follow, in the weeks that follow, it will be a short delay, I will contact Mr. Harper," Marois told reporters Friday while campaigning in Gatineau, Que., near Ottawa. She made the remarks a few hundred metres from Parliament Hill.

Marois brushed off a question about whether she would adopt a belligerent tone with Harper: "No, not at all. I will employ an attitude of respect."

The party has said it wants Quebec to have control over multiple things from copyright law to international aid funds. If Ottawa refuses, it says, that will bolster the case that Quebec and the rest of Canada must go their separate ways.

It's questionable how much leverage she would carry into any conversation. The news isn't all good for the PQ in the latest poll numbers.

In fact, some of it is terrible.

A new CROP survey suggests that while the PQ leads the popular vote by four percentage points, support for the party's raison d'etre — Quebec independence — is exceptionally low at 28 per cent.

The survey says support for sovereignty has dropped eight percentage points during the campaign. Support for Canadian federalism stands at 62 per cent, while the number of undecideds has increased to 10 per cent.

The survey places support for independence far lower than it was three decades ago, when 40 per cent of Quebecers voted Yes in a 1980 referendum. The decline is even more pronounced when compared to the peak of the early 1990s — when support for sovereignty was double the number in the CROP poll.

The Aug. 27-29 telephone survey of 1,002 Quebecers was published in Montreal La Presse and is considered accurate within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

The poll also suggested just 29 per cent of Quebecers would want a referendum in a first PQ mandate — with only eight per cent very favourable to the idea.

In a hint at some of those less-favourable numbers Marois said she needed a majority mandate because it would be difficult to advance the sovereignty agenda with a parliamentary minority.

The reason the PQ is such a heavy favourite is its lead among francophone voters — at seven percentage points. Among francophones, the poll pegged the PQ at 37 per cent, while the new Coalition party was at 30 per cent and the Liberals were at 19 per cent.

Outside Montreal, Quebec is overwhelmingly French-speaking and support from francophones determines the result in most of the province's ridings.

Federal politicians would face significant strategic dilemmas following a PQ win.

Since support for independence is weak, the PQ plans to chip away at its goal one step at a time.

Each PQ success at wresting new powers would make Quebec more independent. And each failure would be used to illustrate the case that in multiple policy areas — economics, language, social policy — Quebec and Canada have competing interests.

It's unclear how Harper would respond. He has not commented on the campaign. His Tories have been instructed to avoid interfering and there has been similar silence from the Opposition NDP.

A former Harper adviser suggests the prime minister should deal with a PQ government on a case-by-case basis. Political scientist Tom Flanagan, who was once Harper's chief of staff, has said he should consider the PQ's suggestions on their merit and respond favourably when it makes sense.

Marois suggested that she wouldn't rely on the NDP — which has most of Quebec's seats — to relay her position to the House of Commons. She noted that the Bloc Quebecois, the PQ's federal ally, still has a few seats in Parliament.

But she did say she expects to have good relations with NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, whom she knows from his days in Quebec City. Mulcair was, in fact, known as one of the more aggressive anti-PQ partisans in the Quebec legislature, before he moved to federal politics.

"I'd really like to know what position Mr. Muclair will have on my approach as Parti Quebecois leader," Marois said.

"I'll certainly have very good relations with Mr. Mulcair whom I know quite well."

Meanwhile, the other Quebec parties were exchanging barbs Friday about who was most responsible for splitting the non-separatist vote.

Francois Legault urged non-Pequistes to vote for his Coalition party because, he said, the Liberals' poor score among francophones gave it no chance of winning the election.

"It's impossible to think we'll have a Liberal government on Sept. 4," Legault said. "The (Coalition) has a very realistic chance of forming a government."

But Liberal Leader Jean Charest, the current premier, listed several pockets of the province where the Coalition has little support. He said it risks merely siphoning votes from the party best-equipped to stop the PQ: the Liberals.

He also warned that both his opponents threatened stability and national unity. To illustrate his point, Charest folded up a sheet of paper to look like a ballot and suggested Quebecers had two choices: cast their vote for instability, or vote Liberal.

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