Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois urged her political opponent Jean Charest to take a side in the power duel unfolding in the House of Commons in Ottawa.

Marois accused the Quebec Liberal leader of letting the province down by refusing to take an official position on the ongoing federal parliamentary crisis.


PQ Leader Pauline Marois waits for the cue to film the opening shot of a television interview on Wednesday. ((Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press))

Charest's silence is unacceptable, and could eventually weaken Quebec's position in future negotiations with the federal government, she said.

"I think that Mr. Charest has to react, and to say whether he agrees with our proposals," she said Wednesday while campaigning for the Dec. 8 provincial election. "What will he say to Mr. Harper in light of these demands? It's very important. He is our [premier]."

Marois also demanded Charest speak up about the advantage she said the Bloc Québécois secured for Quebec by supporting the Liberal-NDP coalition.

The Bloc's support for the Stéphane Dion-led coalition will lead to higher equalization payments and improved employment insurance, she said.

Charest said he won't get involved in the power struggle between the Conservatives and opposition parties because neutrality is the best path to lead Quebec.


Liberal Leader Jean Charest playa a video game as he visits a video game developer Tuesday. ((Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press))

"As premier of Quebec, I'm going to continue to defend the interests of Quebec. That's the mandate I have, and I will continue to do that, whoever is in government in Ottawa," he said Wednesday.

"The interests of Quebec will not vary depending on who is prime minister of Canada. They will remain the same."

Mario Dumont of the Action Démocratique du Québec said he can't understand why Charest is unable to speak out when other premiers have said important things about what's going on in Ottawa.

Most provincial leaders have so far resisted taking sides on the showdown in Ottawa, although many, including Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, have expressed a strong desire to see the partisan showdown in Ottawa come to an end in light of the economic crisis.

Does coalition help or hinder sovereignty in Quebec?

Political observers said the anti-sovereignty rhetoric swirling around the standoff between the Conservatives and newly-formed coalition will fuel Quebec's independence movement, and damage the Tories' chances of making further inroads in the province.

Former PQ premier Jacques Parizeau applauded the Bloc's "impressive victory" in backing the coalition.

"This victory sweeps away any hesitation Quebecers could have had about the usefulness of the Bloc in Ottawa," Parizeau said in an interview with newspaper Le Journal de Montréal.

Quebec has won leverage in the deal and the province's "sovereignty is once again on the day's agenda," the former premier said.

Quebec's sovereignty movement will certainly get a boost from events unfolding in Parliament, said University of Ottawa history professor Michael Behiels in an interview with the Canadian Press.

"The secessionist movement has been on the skids now for a good four to five years and they were just biding their time to watch to see if [Prime Minister Stephen] Harper would make a mistake."

Behiels suggested the Conservatives' pointed criticism of the Bloc and its approval of a Liberal-NDP coalition government is a deliberate and worrisome shift in Tory strategy.

After failing to win over Quebec in a bid to get majority governments in two elections, Harper is returning to his Reform roots and will likely focus on Ontario, the West and the ethnic vote to secure any future majority, Behiels said.

"This is a very dangerous moment we're living through here. He's basically wrapped himself in a flag and told Quebec to go away."

Harper has tried in the past to cultivate support in Quebec, touting the Québécois as a nation within a united Canada as well as boosting the province's role at UNESCO within the Canadian delegation.

But he stumbled in the province in this fall's federal election campaign when his government's decision to cut arts funding triggered widespread outrage among artists.

His government's recent economic update also went down poorly in Quebec because it failed to provide assistance for the manufacturing and forestry sectors.

Dave Rutherford, a right-wing Calgary radio host, believes Quebec has abandoned the Conservatives over "trumped-up" allegations about the cuts to culture funding.

He dismissed suggestions Harper is returning to Reform values, saying he doesn't believe the Tories will lose support in Quebec because of the ongoing debate.

And while many people are blaming Harper for manufacturing a national unity crisis, Rutherford says the Bloc-supported coalition is actually behind it.

With files from the Canadian Press