TORONTO – Canada’s opposition Liberal party announced support Thursday for Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s motion recognizing French-speaking Quebec as a nation within Canada, adding political weight to an attempt to pre-empt similar efforts by Quebec separatists.

The support came a day after Harper stunned Parliament with the motion that calls Quebec a “nation within a united Canada.” The move left some supporters cheering it as a bold political step while critics slammed it as a recipe for tearing apart the country.

Meanwhile, the separatist Bloc Quebecois introduced it motion Thursday that does not refer to a united Canada, but says Quebec is a nation “currently within Canada” – a formulation that raises the possibility that the province could one day secede from Canada.

Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe on Thursday told the House of Commons that Harper’s motion to recognize Quebec nationhood while still including it in Canada was a clumsy attempt to “pull the wool over the public’s eyes.”

“When he attaches that condition, we can see through it that it’s just a partisan tactic,” Duceppe said. “I hope that the prime minister will recognize the Quebec nation, period.”

The flap 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 defeated in 1995.

The support of the majority of Liberals means that Conservative motion will likely pass next week. The two parties control almost three-quarters of the seats in the House of Commons.

Harper’s motion, which is being debated, comes as his party languishes in third place in Quebec polls, behind the Bloc Quebecois and the Liberals. The Tories gained seats in Quebec in the last election and need more from Quebec if they want to form a majority government in the next election.

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