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Quebec independentistes battle low media interest in quest to promote the cause

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MONTREAL - The quest to make Quebec independence a key part of the public debate hit what one of its supporters calls a familiar roadblock Monday: low media interest.

A pro-independence organization held a news conference to unveil a new study that identifies 92 ways in which the Canadian federation hinders Quebec's development against the interests and values of Quebecers.

But the Montreal event generated little media coverage.

There were eight panellists at the news conference. There was only one question from a French-language media outlet. Daniel Paille, leader of the long-dominant Bloc Quebecois, didn't get a single question.

When asked about polls that suggest a low appetite for sovereignty in Quebec, the head of the group behind the report blamed the media's lack of interest in the movement.

"We think that support has decreased because we speak less about sovereignty," Gilbert Paquette, president of the Conseil de la souverainete du Quebec, told the news conference.

"Our objective is to bring independence back to the heart of political debate."

The report has been released a few days before the Parti Quebecois is to vote on a plan to promote sovereignty at a partisan gathering.

The public's interest in separation, however, is thought to be low in Quebec, even though the province elected a pro-independence PQ government in September. One La Presse newspaper poll taken right before the election suggested that support for sovereignty was at 28 per cent.

Paquette said the need to put the movement back on the radar is urgent — that's why his organization launched the Estates-General on Quebec Sovereignty project 11 months ago. The term "estates-general" stems from citizens' assemblies that existed under the French monarchy.

The findings presented Monday, from the project's first phase, are based on the input of 1,200 people in 13 regions across the province.

The report underlines a wide range of issues such as the end of the long-gun registry, the competing regional interests in energy policy, and how 27 new federal ridings have been created outside Quebec compared to only three within it.

The first item on the list says Ottawa has allowed anglophone provinces to commit "soft ethnocide" on Acadians and the French-Canadian minorities. It describes how francophone Quebecers had plummeted to less than 22 per cent, from 31 per cent, as a share of the Canadian population in a century.

"We're reminding people of the evolution of Canada when we systematically eliminated French at the start of the 20th century," said Paquette.

He said the goal of the project was to identify problems with the Canadian Constitution and its effect on day-to-day life in Quebec.

The second phase, set to begin in April, will look at potential solutions for Quebec, he added.

"We will look at how to get rid of these shortcomings of the Constitution," said Paquette. "I think this effort will link very well the sovereigntist project with everyday preoccupations of citizens."

He said participants in the first phase included people from political, environmental, union and student groups.

The study was conducted with the help of partisan money from pro-independence political parties, including the PQ. Paquette says the PQ gave $10,000 to the initiative.

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