Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois is taking aim at the Harper government as part of a pre-election strategy to boost support for her party and consolidate her battered leadership in the sovereignty movement.
Conservative policies will help her party make a stronger case for sovereignty, Ms. Marois said, adding that Quebeckers are much more progressive on many social issues than the right-wing positions adopted by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
"It is giving us major arguments to illustrate how Quebec would be better served if it was alone in making decisions," Ms. Marois said during an interview on Friday.
The PQ leader is looking for ways to reinforce her leadership. Since last June, seven MNAs have deserted the PQ caucus, three to join the newly formed Coalition Avenir Quebec party headed by former PQ minister François Legault.
The last defection came this week, when former PQ caucus member François Rebello crossed over to the CAQ saying that Quebeckers have no desire to support sovereignty.
Ms. Marois called Mr. Rebello of a "turncoat" and a "liar," saying he vowed to the entire caucus just last month that he would never join the CAQ.
Unless Ms. Marois can turn around the party fortunes, the PQ could be wiped out in the next election, which may be held as early as this spring.
Public opinion polls last month placed the PQ in third position, far behind the CAQ, which would easily defeat Jean Charest's Liberals to form a majority government. The emergence of Mr. Legault's party, which places sovereignty on the backburner for at least 10 to 15 years, has caused more damage to the PQ than to the Liberals and been a major blow to Ms. Marois' leadership.
Other defectors, such as Jean-Martin Aussant, who launched a party to promote Quebec independence, have accused Ms. Marois of soft-peddling sovereignty. Mr. Aussant and others say that without a clear strategy to achieve independence, the PQ will continue to drift aimlessly.
Ms. Marois said she has no intention to change course, which means she won't adopt an aggressive strategy to seek Quebec independence immediately if the PQ is elected to government. She said she would continue to build support for sovereignty gradually by showing how Canada is going down a path Quebeckers will reject.
"Without changing our strategy ... it seems clearer now that the PQ is the only party that can place the building of a country at the centre of the debate," Ms. Marois said. "We need to be clearer on what sovereignty will do to change the lives of Quebeckers and in that respect the Harper government was giving us new arguments to make our case."
Ms. Marois pointed to this week's controversy over the recognition of same-sex marriages, the rejection of the Kyoto accord on greenhouse gas emissions, tougher sentencing for young offenders and abolition of the gun registry as just some of the positions adopted by the Conservatives that clash with the social values of most Quebeckers.
Ms. Marois said that over time, she will be able to demonstrate to voters that Mr. Legault is nothing more than an "opportunist without convictions."
However, as the PQ struggles through what appears to be a perpetual internal crisis, Ms. Marois may not have the luxury of time. With an election looming, rank-and-file members are becoming increasingly nervous and are pointing the finger at their leader for the party's troubles. At least one riding association wanted to debate Ms. Marois's leadership at a PQ national council meeting that was to be held in early December but was postponed until later this month.
When Ms. Marois speaks to PQ members at the end of January, she said she will persuade the party that debate should not be about the strategy or her leadership but how to fight Mr. Legault and the CAQ .
"We need to show that the PQ represents the progressive forces and that [Mr. Legault]was more conservative. But more importantly with respect to Quebec, we need to demonstrate that we represent the real change by defending the need to build a country while his party represents nothing more than the status quo," Ms. Marois said.