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Quebec’s main separatist party faced a tough challenge of its own making yesterday 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 Parti Québécois facing a backlash over renewed talk of independence, an idea that has enjoyed little support in recent years. Premier Pauline Marois, who has led a minority government since 2012, called the snap National Assembly elections in the hope of securing a majority needed to pass the PQ’s “charter of values”, which would ban public employees from wearing religious headgear.

She tried to mute talk of another referendum on independence but early in the campaign one PQ candidate, media baron Pierre Karl Peladeau, burst on to the scene with a fist-pumping declaration of his commitment to “make Quebec a country”.

That turned independence into the defining issue of the poll, with some predicting the PQ struggling to take control of the legislature. Quebec has had two referendums on sovereignty. The last such vote, in 1995, narrowly rejected independence. Still, if the PQ gets anything less than a majority, analysts expect a shake-up within the party. AP