Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe pulled the Quebec constitutional debate into the federal election campaign mix on Friday, calling on Conservative Leader Stephen Harper to enshrine Quebec's status as a nation in the Canadian Constitution.
In 2006, Harper's Conservative government succeeded in passing a motion in the House of Commons "recognizing that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada."
That was an important step for Quebec but limited in value, because "there isn't a sovereigntist who can be satisfied with the symbolic recognition of their nation," Duceppe said during a campaign stop in Montreal Thursday.
Quebec needs formal recognition in the Canadian Constitution; "it's fundamental," Duceppe insisted.
But Duceppe is not prepared to sign the Canadian constitution, even if the government grants his wish.
"There are a lot of other things that have to be part of changes to the constitution. It isn't limited to that," the Bloc leader said. "At the end of the line, I think we can never obtain what we want within Canada. That's why we need sovereignty."
Duceppe's demand comes as the Bloc leader has faced stinging criticism during the Oct. 14 election campaign from separatists saying his party has sidelined its mandate to work toward Quebec sovereignty.
Dumont wants declaration
On Thursday, Action Démocratique du Québec Leader Mario Dumont, who has indicated he personally supports the Conservatives, called on Harper to formally recognize the declaration within the Constitution, which was ratified in 1982 without Quebec's inclusion.
Duceppe, speaking at a candidates' introduction rally in Papineau, called on Harper to "stop hiding" behind meaningless statements.
"Mr. Harper, are you for or against enshrining the recognition of Quebec as a nation in the Canadian Constitution as has been asked for by Mario Dumont?" Duceppe said. "Let Mr. Harper answer that question."
While speaking on national unity on Thursday, Harper defended his government's record of open federalism and recognizing Quebec as a nation, but said he was not interested in revisiting the debate over Quebec and the Constitution at this time.
Duceppe's campaign has been struggling following criticism of his party by a prominent sovereigntist in an open letter.
Jacques Brassard, a former Parti Québécois cabinet minister, accused the Bloc of becoming a "clone" of the NDP and failing to effectively promote Quebec independence as its main platform issue.
Duceppe dismissed the attack as a matter of personal opinion, insisting the Bloc's policies are distinct from those of the NDP.