08/07/2015 04:05 EDT | Updated 08/07/2016 05:59 EDT

Maclean's Leaders' Debate Disrespected Quebecers: Gilles Duceppe

OTTAWA — The first televised leaders' debate of the federal election campaign was disrespectful toward Quebecers, Gilles Duceppe said Friday, because independence was discussed at length without the only federal sovereigntist party being present.

"I found that surreal,'' the Bloc Quebecois leader said Friday in an interview with The Canadian Press.

Duceppe was the only leader of a federal party with seats in the House of Commons to not have been invited to Thursday night's English-language debate in Toronto, hosted by Maclean's magazine.

He said he can't understand how party leaders could repeatedly say Quebec sovereignty is no longer an issue, and yet talk about independence — in English — for a good portion of the two-hour exchange.

"These people, who I call Bloc Canada, didn't stop saying how Quebecers were no longer interested in sovereignty,'' he said. "They exclude me from the debate and then talk for 30 minutes about the (referendum) rules they are going to impose on us.''

During the debate, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau accused NDP Leader Tom Mulcair of wanting to make it easier for Quebecers to separate from Canada.

Trudeau said his party agrees with the Supreme Court's 1998 decision that the referendum question and subsequent result must be "free of ambiguity'' before the federal government would be obligated to negotiate separation.

The NDP's position is that a 50-plus-one-vote majority is all that is needed.

Duceppe called it disrespectful to Quebecers for the leaders to discuss in his absence the terms of a potential referendum.

Without giving away his debate strategy, Duceppe said he is anxious to square off against the other party leaders during the only confirmed French-language debate, which is scheduled for Oct. 2.

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