NDP Leader Tom Mulcair is defending his decision to have his party remain "neutral" in the Quebec election.
All parties except for the separatist Bloc Québécois say they will play no direct role in the provincial campaign in Quebec – but Mulcair's is the only one that won't even express a preference.
“I have the intention to remain neutral — I will not support any party during this campaign, because I’m waiting for the day when there is an NDP in Quebec,” he said.
Mulcair made the remarks shortly after his weekly party caucus meeting Wednesday, and just an hour after Quebec Premier Pauline Marois asked Quebec's lieutenant-governor to dissolve the national assembly and declare an election.
Mulcair agreed the underlying question of the Quebec election is whether to have another sovereignty referendum or not, and says the “signs are clear” that a PQ majority win would likely lead to a third referendum.
But speaking on CBC News Network's Power & Politics, Mulcair added, "We shouldn't be voting on only one issue — we should be looking at the overall offer of political parties."
Liberals go on attack
Liberals seized on the comments to attack Mulcair.
"We were very, very surprised to see Mr. Mulcair, who wants to be prime minister of Canada, to not be able to say he supports the federalist option in Quebec," said Liberal MP Dominic LeBlanc.
While LeBlanc said his party will not be intervening directly in Quebec's election, he says, "We've always been clear; our cousins in the Liberal Party [of Quebec] offer Quebecers the best option in terms of looking at the real economic and social issues that many Quebecers share."
LeBlanc said it's not up to federal MPs, especially ones from New Brunswick or other provinces such as himself, to get directly involved in Quebec's election, but added, "Unlike Mr. Mulcair, we are not neutral when it comes to an election in Quebec with a federalist option and a separatist option."
Tories hope Quebecers choose federalist option
Conservatives are also being cautions, saying Quebecers will make their own choice, but also not shying away from indicating their preference.
"Quebecers, they don’t want to discuss about independence, secession or sovereignty," said Minister of State for Small Business and Tourism Maxime Bernier, one of five Conservative MPs from Quebec. "They want to have a discussion about the economy. That’s what we’re doing and I think at the end, the federalist party in Quebec have a good chance to win."
Minister of International Development Christian Paradis couldn't quite bring himself say the word "Liberal," while commenting on which party he'd like to see win the election.
"I think it's an open secret that I'm hoping for a federalist government that takes care of the economy," Paradis told reporters on Wednesday.
"So, those who offer that, to me would be the choice to make."
Quebec NDP MPs to stay out of campaign
When pressed, Mulcair challenged the assertion that he needs to publicly support one party over the others in Quebec.
"I'd like to be shown where Stephen Harper chose between Wild Rose and the Conservative Party in Alberta – I don't think he did it."
"If the country is at stake," Mulcair added, "I will be front and centre if there is ever a referendum — the way I was there in 1980, the way I was there in 1995."
Federal political leaders are keeping a close eye on Quebec’s election, but are not likely to intervene too directly. Mulcair has fully three-quarters of all Quebec MPs in his caucus, and he has already given the order for them to stay out of the campaign.
In launching the election campaign, Marois kept her message clearly focused on the economy.
With no mention of sovereignty or the contentious secular charter, there is no direct challenge to Ottawa.