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'We will definitely be living through a third referendum,' says Parti Quebecois leader

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"We will definitely be living through a third referendum" on sovereignty before the end of this decade, declared Parti Quebecois (PQ) leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon on Sunday.

The PQ leader is convinced that he'll be able to form the next government in 2026.

And this referendum could very well be the one of the last chances, he suggested, because an "existential threat" from the federal government hangs over "our people."

"In recent weeks, Ottawa has announced its intention to shamelessly encroach on Quebec's areas of jurisdiction, in housing, health, drug insurance and dental care," said the PQ leader.

"You're going to tell me: what difference does it make if housing improves?" he told a press conference at the end of his party's general council in Drummondville.

"It changes that we are falling into a system that is no longer a federation, but an increasingly unitary state, in which our political weight will be less than one-fifth of the vote, in a unitary state with a history of discrimination against francophones. What will become of us as Quebecers if we don't even have a fifth of the votes in a government that decides for us? We're finished! Canada has a bleak future in store for us," he said in his speech to party members at a two-day national council that focused on housing.

"It's a regime that only wants to crush those who refuse to assimilate."

There are "strong irreversible trends" towards the marginalization of francophones in the country and towards the centralization of powers in Ottawa, he continued, saying that an historic "window" was opening.

In his speech, he said that "our time will come," the time when Quebecers will be able to choose independence after the two previous failed referendums in 1980 and 1995.

Galvanized by the polls that repeatedly put him in first place among Quebec provincial parties, the PQ leader was cheered by around 500 parties and observers.

"We have a duty to win" to "shake off our defeatism," he insisted, this being "our ultimate chance to ensure linguistic and cultural continuity."

The PQ leader's very assertive speech provoked very strong reactions from his opponents.

"He's already certain of winning a majority in 2026," wrote Stéphane Gobeil of Premier François Legault's office on the X network. "It's either arrogance or badly controlled euphoria."

"Paul St-Pierre Plamondon is by far the most radical leader of the Parti Québécois," wrote interim Liberal leader Marc Tanguay. "By pointing fingers, he is banking on fear to promote his independence option."

In his speech, St-Pierre Plamondon reached out to citizens of all political persuasions to achieve independence, as polls suggest that the party would remain more popular than the independence option, still hovering around the 50 per cent support mark.

"Sooner or later, it will be our duty to form the largest Yes coalition (for independence) that Quebec has ever known (....). Whether you are conservative, progressive, centrist, libertarian, economic right-wing or even pastafarian, it doesn't matter, given the state of the nation," he said in his speech.

He called on Quebecers to think like "builders, entrepreneurs, winners," as he put it.

"Think like Alphonse and Dorimène Desjardins, think like Bombardier, think like Maurice Richard! We have it in us; it's in our DNA," he said.

He also maintained that "the Parti Québécois (PQ) is indeed the leading political force in Quebec."

St-Pierre Plamondon admitted that nothing predicted his party would get to the position it is at when he was elected leader of the PQ in 2020, at a time when it was at its lowest point in the polls.

He said that it was because the PQ had tried to change the course of history that it had managed to climb back, notably when the elected PQ members refused to take the compulsory oath to the king after the 2022 election.

Housing

The general council focused on housing because of the current crisis.

Among the proposals adopted, the PQ pledged, if it came to power, to finance the construction of a minimum of 45,000 off-market housing units over five years, including 10,000 for students in cities with universities and CEGEPs.

However, there are no figures for this solution, including how much it will cost.

The PQ also wants to ban Airbnb-type rentals in cities where the vacancy rate is below 3 per cent, with the exception of resort areas.

St-Pierre Plamondon's party is also committed to offering financial incentives to businesses to encourage the conversion of vacant office space into housing.

In another proposal, the PQ would introduce a national catalogue of pre-approved building plans to speed up construction.

The PQ pointed out that in 2023, in nearly three-quarters of the 71 municipalities with more than 10,000 inhabitants in Quebec, the vacancy rate was 1 per cent, whereas a market is considered balanced when it is close to 3 per cent.

The PQ adopted virtually all of its proposals.

Unlike PQ councils of past years, which were torn apart by debates on resolutions and amendments, delegates now review the proposals in workshops on the first day to avoid pitfalls and rally opponents. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on April 14, 2024.

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