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September 23, 2017

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Quebec separatist party faces backlash, independence issue looms large

MONTREAL -- Quebec's main separatist party faces a tough challenge of its own making Monday in elections that revived the debate on whether the French-speaking province should break away from Canada.

That possibility now seems far off, with the Party Quebecois facing a backlash over their renewed talk of independence, an idea that has enjoyed little support in recent years.

Quebec Premier Pauline Marois, who has led a minority government since September 2012, called the snap National Assembly elections last month in the hopes of securing a majority needed to pass the PQ's controversial "charter of values," which would ban public employees from wearing religious headgear, including Muslim headscarves and Jewish skullcaps.

"I want to obtain the confidence of Quebecers," Marois said Sunday during last-minute campaigning. "I am asking for their confidence."

Marois had tried to mute talk of another referendum on independence. But the strategy backfired early in the campaign when one PQ candidate, multimillionaire media baron Pierre Karl Peladeau, burst onto the scene with a fist-pumping declaration of his commitment to "make Quebec a country."

That turned independence into the defining issue of the campaign, sidelining the "charter of values" that the PQ had hoped would electrify French-speaking voters in crucial swing regions. Supporters say the charter would protect the idea of separation of church

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