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Bloc Leader promises responsibility

Duceppe stresses common concerns in bid to calm fears of party's separatist agenda

From Saturday's Globe and Mail

Gatineau, Que. — Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe strove yesterday to convince Canadians he is not a separatist zealot bent on causing chaos.''We're human beings like they are. We're not eating babies for breakfast,'' he said at a news conference.

Mr. Duceppe said he wants the next Parliament to work for all Canadians, even if it's a Liberal or a Conservative minority. As the potential kingmaker, the Bloc Leader promised to be responsible and respectful of Canadians and their democratic institutions.

He said that regardless of the party that holds the governing minority, the Bloc's first orders of business would include implementing the Kyoto accord and reforming the employment insurance system.

"When I stand in the House to defend the workers of Quebec, it happens that I'm also defending workers in Canada. We have things in common, we don't live on planet Mars," Mr. Duceppe said.

The Bloc is in the middle of a final blitz across Quebec, with an ambitious plan to take over ridings that are currently in Liberal hands. In speeches in Montreal, Quebec City, Chicoutimi and Gatineau yesterday, Mr. Duceppe was scathing in his attacks on the Liberals.

"Over the last few weeks, I've been all over Quebec and I've been told by Quebeckers that they've had enough of the Liberal regime. There is indignation in people's eyes," he said to loud applause at a stop in Montreal.

Later on, however, he insisted he could work with either the Liberals or the Conservatives in a minority situation, refusing to say with which party he has greater affinity.

Mr. Duceppe called on all parties to adopt a system in Parliament by which issues are decided on a case-by-case basis in a free vote, which would not cast into doubt the overall stability of the government.

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"I think it's going to be interesting to have a Parliament that decides things not on a partisan basis, but that takes a close look at issues, that takes into account what Quebeckers and Canadians want. That's how the House should always work," he said.

In that context, Mr. Duceppe said it makes him angry when critics accuse him of going to Ottawa "to block" and obstruct the work of Parliament.

"I'll be responsible and offer my full co-operation to ensure that Quebec's interests are well defended and that we don't became an Italian-style Parliament," he said.

Still, he repeated he will not compromise on his program in order to "save our seats."

"If some people are crazy enough to challenge the rights of women, they'll have to face the consequences. I'm ready to face the music," he said.

Mr. Duceppe said that the Bloc will win some fights in the House and lose others but that he will not hold this as evidence that Canada doesn't work. He said he wants Quebeckers to opt for sovereignty because they are confident in their collective future, not because they're angry at other Canadians.

"Canada is not a gulag. We live in a democracy," he said.

Mr. Duceppe said he does not have a firm timeline for a vote on sovereignty, although it is years away. "I don't know when, but one day we'll achieve our goal," he said.

Bloc candidates in traditionally federalist ridings are optimistic in the final stretch, saying they can smell victory against Liberal ministers and star candidates such as Denis Coderre and Jean Lapierre.

François Rebello, who is running against Mr. Lapierre in the traditionally Liberal riding of Outremont, said the Bloc is leading by a two-to-one margin in its internal polling. Mr. Rebello said that it would be "a strong symbol" if Outremont elected a sovereigntist.

Maria Mourani, the Bloc candidate in the Liberal riding of Ahuntsic, said the party is deliberately going after Liberal strongholds.

"We're here to win all of Quebec," she said. "Fortresses are made to fall. We have to work to make them fall."

The Bloc's hopes for victories in and around Montreal rest, in many cases, on the party's ability to make gains within ethnic communities, which traditionally support the Liberals. Mr. Duceppe said he has worked hard in recent years to establish links with various community leaders, finding solutions to their problems instead of simply trying to obtain their votes.

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