UPDATE 1-Quebec heading for provincial election, separatists lead

Thu Feb 20, 2014 5:27pm EST

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By Randall Palmer

OTTAWA Feb 20 (Reuters) - Quebec's two largest opposition parties said they would vote against the provincial budget that was introduced on Thursday, assuring a spring election, the French branch of CBC television reported.

The separatist Parti Quebecois currently heads a minority government and has a comfortable lead in the polls, and it might well call an election on its own in the next two weeks, before it is brought down in a vote on its budget. In either case, an election by mid-April is likely.

The budget projected deficits of C$2.50 billion ($2.27 billion) for 2013-14 and C$1.75 billion for 2014-15, with a balanced budget in 2015-16, unchanged from the projections the government gave in November.

If the Parti Quebecois decided not to call an election on its own, it would need the support of either the Quebec Liberals and the Coalition Avenir Quebec, and French CBC said both said they would vote against it.

"This wasn't really a budget speech but rather an election speech," Liberal leader Philippe Couillard declared in reaction.

The Parti Quebecois, which would like to take the mainly French-speaking province out of Canada, won a minority of seats in the 2012 election with just under 32 percent of the vote.

An online panel survey by the polling firm CROP, published on Tuesday by La Presse newspaper, put the Parti Quebecois at 40 percent. The survey had the Quebec Liberals at 34 percent and the Coalition Avenir Quebec at 16 percent.

La Presse columnist Vincent Marissal said that with 40 percent support, and 47 percent among francophones, the Parti Quebecois had a "passport to a majority" government.

It needs to have a majority of seats in the Quebec National Assembly, the provincial legislature, in order to be able to call a referendum on independence.

The Parti Quebecois lost such referendums in 1980 and 1995, the latter by just over one percentage point. It has signaled it would not automatically call a third referendum, but that possibility will always loom in the background.

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