The Guardian - par Beth Duff-Brown in Toronto
The Conservative Canadian prime minister, Stephen Harper, has stunned MPs by introducing a motion recognising the French-speaking province of Quebec as a nation within Canada - a moved aimed at pre-empting Quebec's separatist party, which intends to do the same.
The Bloc Québécois said it intended to introduce a motion that Quebec is a nation. But that motion apparently does not include the words "within Canada", leaving federalists to worry that it could be misinterpreted.
The row has reignited passions over whether the French-speaking province should be given independence. Quebecers have twice voted down referendums seeking independence from Canada; the last one was narrowly defeated in 1995.
"Do Quebecers form a nation within a united Canada? The answer is yes," Mr Harper told cheering MPs. "Do Quebecers form an independent nation? The answer is no - and it will always be no."
Mr Harper said on Wednesday that the Bloc Québécois motion was an "unusual request" that could lead to another referendum for Quebec's independence.
The issue resurfaced when Michael Ignatieff, a frontrunner for the Liberal leadership, said the French language, history and culture marked Quebecers as a separate people who should be recognised as a nation under the constitution. The Liberals, whose lost power to the Conservatives in January after nearly 13 years, hold their national convention in Montreal next week and elect their next leader.
Liberals in Quebec adopted a resolution last month recognising Quebec as a nation "within Canada" and called for the creation of a taskforce to advise on how to make the status official.
Mr Harper's motion, which will be debated next week, comes as his Tories languish in third place in Quebec polls, behind the Bloc Québécois and the Liberals. He said the Bloc's intent was clear: "It's not to recognise what Quebecers are but what sovereignists would like them to be. For the Bloc, it's not a matter of Quebec as a nation ... For them, nation means separation."