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Sovereigntists disconnected from reality, Charest says

Quebec's Premier Jean Charest speaks during the questions period at the National Assembly in Quebec City February 14, 2012.

MATHIEU BELANGER/MATHIEU BELANGER/Reuters

While the Parti Quebecois promised a more aggressive push toward independence, it was accused Monday of being out of touch with Quebecers' concerns.

That was the less-than-flattering assessment from Premier Jean Charest, one day after his opposition rivals announced plans to increase their emphasis on sovereignty.

In the lead-up to a provincial election expected as early as this spring, the PQ has created a committee to update 148 old studies on Quebec independence – including the landmark Belanger-Campeau papers, published in 1991 and revised in 2002.

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Members of the new 12-person group include a prominent ex-labour leader, a constitutional expert, a musician and new Bloc Quebecois Leader Daniel Paille as well as the PQ's Pauline Marois.

Mr. Charest and other federalists say Quebecers' priorities are elsewhere, as noted by polls suggesting that people don't want another sovereignty referendum.

"It's rather sad to see the degree to which Mrs. Marois is disconnected from the reality of Quebecers," Mr. Charest told reporters.

"Not only does she say her priority is sovereignty, she's fighting against the biggest economic project we currently have in Quebec, in terms of job-creation – the Plan Nord."

The premier's northern-development plan would build infrastructure in northern Quebec, open the door to additional mining and create ecological areas. Its critics, notably the PQ, deride it as a marketing gimmick and say it doesn't charge companies enough in resource royalties.

For its part, the PQ is banking on the more aggressive independence push.

Proponents of that approach insist the party stands to gain because, while support for independence is down from its historic levels, it's still 10 percentage points higher than actual support for the PQ.

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In the latest polls, the PQ was involved in a three-way race against Mr. Charest's Liberals and the new Coalition For Quebec's Future, at around 30 per cent support. Meanwhile, support for independence has generally hovered at or above the 40 per cent mark.

Hoping to attract sovereigntist voters back to the flock, the PQ has increased its talk of independence lately and intensified its attacks on the Harper government in Ottawa.

The premier's opponents dismissed his reaction.

"Rate of very satisfied with the Charest gov't: 2 per cent," Ms. Marois' speechwriter, Stephane Gobeil, wrote on Twitter, citing Mr. Charest's low approval numbers.

"Credibility of Jean Charest when he talks about being connected to Quebecers: zero."

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