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Last Updated: Saturday, 25 November 2006, 01:12 GMT
Bloc Quebecois supports Canada PM
Stephen Harper
Stephen Harper said his motion would not change the constitution
The leader of Canada's separatist Bloc Quebecois has said his party will back a government motion that Quebecers form a "nation within a united Canada".

Gilles Duceppe said Prime Minister Stephen Harper's motion was a victory for separatist aspirations in Quebec.

Quebec, mostly Francophone, has held two referendums on separation, in 1980 and 1995, but rejected the idea.

Mr Harper's Conservatives won Canada's general election in January to end 12 years of Liberal rule.

Quebec debate reopened

In a parliamentary debate on Friday, Mr Duceppe said the Bloc will join Canada's other opposition parties in supporting the motion that Mr Harper announced on Wednesday.

"We are delighted by the fact that Canada will become the first country to officially recognise the Quebec nation," Mr Duceppe said.

The government motion says that the House of Commons should "recognise that Quebecers constitute a nation within a united Canada".

The Bloc Quebecois is the third-largest party in the national parliament after the Conservatives and Liberals.

The debate over Quebec's status was reopened earlier in the week when the Bloc announced it would table a motion in parliament calling for recognition of Quebecers as a nation.

Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe
Gilles Duceppe's Bloc Quebecois is Canada's third-largest party
There was no mention of Canada.

Mr Harper then introduced his motion on Wednesday.

"The real question is simple," he said in the House of Commons. "Do Quebecois make up a nation of their own in a united Canada? The answer is yes.

"Do Quebecois make up a nation independent from Canada? The answer is no and will always be no."

On Thursday the Bloc tabled its motion but with an amendment to say that Quebecers should be recognised as a nation that is "currently within Canada".

On Friday, Mr Harper welcomed the Bloc's decision to back the government.

"This is the third position the Bloc has taken on this in three days," Mr Harper said.

"They moved a motion, they made an amendment to a motion and now they're supporting our motion."

He said the motion would not amend the constitution. "This is merely a declaration of recognition and an act of reconciliation."

Constitutional experts say the motion carries no legal weight and would be unlikely to give Quebec separatists a lever to extract more political powers from Ottawa.

The motion is expected to pass easily in parliament next week now that it has the backing of all the major parties.

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