Prime Minister Stephen Harper's vision of Canada is leaving Quebec no other choice but to seek political independence, Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois said
It has become "very risky" for the province to remain a part of Canada, she added in the speech to party faithful gathering to prepare for the next provincial election.
In Saturday's speech, she highlighted how she thought Mr. Harper's majority government was persuading Quebecers to support sovereignty.
Ms. Marois argued that "Quebec sends $40-billion to Ottawa" but Mr. Harper makes decisions Quebeckers oppose. He "sends our young people to war," sabotages the Kyoto accord on greenhouse gas emissions and deters international aid for religious motives.
"It's crazy when you think about it. We are locked into a system where Canada makes fundamental choices for us. We have to make another choice. We have to choose between the country of Canada or the country of Quebec. There is no other choice. There is no third way," Ms. Marois said to a cheering crowd of about 400 delegates as they chanted " We want our country."
Opinion polling during the first year of Mr. Harper's majority has shown little change in support for sovereignty among Quebeckers, which remains around 40 per cent.
The PQ strategy has been to portray the newly-formed Coalition Avenir Québéc party headed by former PQ minister François Legault as a pale version of the Quebec Liberal party. Both parties, according to Ms. Marois, have given up fighting for Quebec, allowing Mr. Harper free rein to govern without considering the province's interest, Ms. Marois argued.
She urged Quebeckers to change directions and demand the province be allowed to make its own choices rather than leave it to the federal government.
"The biggest risk for Quebec isn't sovereignty," Ms. Marois said, "it is staying in Canada."
The PQ leader failed to outline how she intended to seek sovereignty should her party from the next government. The party's ambiguity on the issue has been a major stumbling block within the sovereignty movement.
Should the party form the next government, achieving sovereignty would not be Ms. Marois's overriding priority. The first objective would be to seek more powers from Ottawa as part of a strategy aimed at increasing Quebec's bargaining power. She argued this was the key difference between the PQ and its rival parties accused of having relinquished Quebec's traditional demands for more political autonomy.
"What direction should Quebec take? Quietly abandon our identity? Relinquish all bargaining power as proposed by the Liberals and the CAQ? Or assert and rebuild our bargaining power with Ottawa?" Ms. Marois said.
Tongue in cheek, she even proposed to strike what she called a "royal deal" with Mr. Harper.
"He can give us culture and we will let him keep the Queen."
The PQ remained convinced that Mr. Charest will call an election soon and was leaving nothing to chance, moving quickly to nominate candidates and define its election platform.
The Liberals have said repeatedly that there would be no election this spring, but Ms. Marois refused believe it. The PQ recalled how in 2008, Mr. Charest indicated he would not go to the polls only to change his mind a few weeks later, catching his opponents off guard.
The Liberals have until the end of their five-year mandate in the fall of 2013 before having to call a general election.