Leaders of Canada's major parties play down Quebec issue in debate

10:36, April 15, 2011      

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Canadian leaders of major parties attend the second TV debate on election in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, on April 13, 2011. Canada will hold the 41st federal election on May 2. (Xinhua/Christopher Pike)

The leaders of Canada's four major parties traded barbs concerning Quebec's identity during a televised French-language debate on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, leader of the Conservative Party, touted his party's move to recognize French-speaking Quebec as a nation within a united Canada during the two-hour debate ahead of the May 2 federal election.

Gilles Duceppe, leader of the Bloc Quebecois, the most powerful separatist party in Quebec, pointed out that Quebec has never signed on to the Canadian constitution of 1982.

Quebecers twice voted in referendums on splitting from the rest of Canada in 1980 and 1995. Federalists only narrowly won the last ballot.

However, both Harper and Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff insisted the constitution was not a major issue for Quebecers.

Harper also emphasized that if he were to win a majority government, the focus would be on the economy, not constitutional debates.

Duceppe said, however, there are consequences to Quebec having never signed the constitution, listing losses in business and industry where he feels the province was owed more.

"I think it is a question which is there and it is not solved and there are two options. And those options are represented by people like me in the House of Commons," he said.

Ignatieff argued that Quebecers have different priorities now. He said Quebec residents now have everything they need, including a flourishing French language.

The debate at the Government Conference Center shifted some of the spotlight to Duceppe's Bloc Quebecois, which holds 47 of Quebec's 75 seats. The other party leaders, including the New Democratic Party (NDP) Leader Jack Layton, were seeking to siphon off some of the Bloc's support and to cut into its grip on the majority of Quebec's seats.

Harper's Conservative government was defeated March 25 by the opposition parties' non-confidence move, which found the government in contempt of parliament.

The parliament was dissolved the following day and Canada's 41st federal election, the fourth in the past seven years, has been slated for May 2 with 308 seats to be decided in the House of Commons.

Source: Xinhua
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