Marois remains cagey on referendum timetable during debate
Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois. (DIDIER DEBUSSCHERE/QMI Agency)
MONTREAL - Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois refused to be boxed in on her timetable for a sovereignty referendum on Thursday during the first leaders' debate of the campaign.
The premier refused to say if she would hold a plebiscite to break up Canada should voters give the PQ a majority on April 7.
Her former separatist colleague, Francois Legault, who now runs the breakaway centre-right CAQ party, pressed Marois on the unity question but she didn't bite.
"No, there will not be any referendum ... so long as Quebecers are not ready," she repeated more than once.
"There will not be any tomorrow," she said at another point. "And it will not be in secret, you know very well.
"Are we holding a referendum election? No. This is an election to choose a government."
Polls have indicated support for sovereignty is flat and Marois largely avoided talking about sovereignty while leading her short-lived minority government.
But the issue came back to the fore when Marois' star candidate, former Quebecor tycoon Pierre Karl Peladeau, joined the PQ earlier this month by declaring "I am a sovereigntist."
Peladeau also said he's running for the PQ to "help give his three children a country that they can be proud of."
The debate also became heated Thursday over the issue of the PQ's proposed secularism charter that would bar public servants from wearing religious symbols at work.
Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard, whose party crept ahead of the PQ in the polls last week, asked Marois how many women would be fired from hospitals if the charter is passed.
Marois was quick to remind Couillard that he tossed Liberal member Fatima Houda-Pepin from his caucus last month for supporting the PQ proposal that Couillard opposes.
"I only know one woman who lost her job (because of the charter) and that's (Pepin)," Marois said.