French Socialist presidential candidate Segolene Royal denied interfering in the affairs of Canada Tuesday after she was quoted saying she supports freedom for Quebec.
She was reacting to a sharp rebuke from Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper who said it was "highly inappropriate for a foreign leader to interfere in the democratic affairs of another country."
Canadian news media earlier said that after a meeting on Monday with Andre Boisclair, head of the pro-independence Parti Quebecois, Royal said France and Quebec share common values, including "sovereignty and Quebec's freedom."
Interviewed on Europe 1 radio, Royal said: "As in every democracy it is the voting public that is sovereign and free, and so the people of Quebec will freely decide their destiny at the appropriate time if they are asked to make a choice."
"It is not up to France to dictate to either the Quebecois or Canadians what they must do. On the contrary, the principles of sovereignty and freedom are I believe totally indisputable," she said.
She said her remarks with Boisclair did not deviate from the long-standing French policy of "neither interference nor indifference" in the affairs of Canada's largely French-speaking province.
Quebec has held two referendums on independence -- in 1980 and 1995 -- and both times a majority was opposed.
It was not the first time Royal, 53, has come under fire for what her opponents say are diplomatic gaffes.
On a visit to the Middle East she was accused of condoning remarks by the Lebanese Hezbollah leader in which he compared Israel to Nazi Germany, and in Beijing she made controversial comments in praise of the Chinese system of justice.
She has also said that Iran does not have the right to develop civilian nuclear power -- even though that is not the position of France or the international community.