Quebec's new Opposition leader says he's ready to begin major talks that would facilitate the signing of the 1982 Canadian Constitution.

Action democratique du Quebec Leader Mario Dumont says the talks will be a major and gradual process for the province.

"If Ottawa is ready to open the debate on spending power, (Quebec's) national assembly should have an initiative to facilitate its inscription in the Canadian Constitution," Dumont told supporters Saturday.

The Constitution Act, 1982 repatriated Canada's Constitution from Great Britain. The document included the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

This meant laws could be tested against the Charter in court. Judges could strike down legislation if they found it to be violating the Charter.

The Quebec government, led by then-premier Rene Levesque, leader of the sovereigntist Parti Quebecois, refused to sign the constitutional deal agreed to by other premiers at a November 1981 constitutional conference.

Levesque objected to a federal Charter that would be interpreted by a federally appointed court.

He was also left out of informal late-night negotiations that became popularly known as the kitchen accords.

"We tried as much as possible to respond to his concerns," then-Alberta premier Peter Lougheed told The Canadian Press.

Lougheed made a last-ditch effort to convince Levesque, an ally in Lougheed's resource battles with the federal government, to sign the deal. "In hindsight now, I'm convinced there was nothing we could have done that would have brought a separatist premier of Quebec on board. But I think it was worth the effort."

That bit of deal-making led to the not-withstanding clause -- used most controversially by Liberal Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa to protect Quebec's language laws in the late 1980s.
Levesque's position has been defended by both federalist and sovereigntist Quebec governments ever since.

Canada went through two subsequent rounds of constitutional negotiations -- the Meech Lake Accord and the Charlottetown Accord. Neither won ratification. In the wake of Meech's 1990 collapse, a federal sovereigntist party formed -- the Bloc Quebecois. The PQ regained power in 1994, and the sovereigntists came within 50,000 votes of winning the 1995 sovereignty referendum.

Dumont himself started political life as a young Liberal but quit after Meech's collapse and voted 'yes' in the 1995 sovereignty referendum.

While nominally a federalist party, Dumont's Action democratique du Quebec has pushed the idea of "autonomie" for Quebec -- a concept that seeks greater powers for the province without separation from the rest of the country.

His party was seen as the big winner in Quebec's March 26 provincial election. While it didn't form government, the party secured 41 seats, up from their previous five. The Liberals were reduced to a minority government with 48 of 125 seats, the first for Quebec since 1878.

The conservative ADQ's rise has been touted as a vindication for the Harper Conservatives' courting of Quebec.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has talked about restricted federal spending power in areas of provincial jurisdiction, but has been cautious on the issue of wider constitutional reform.

In a December speech in Quebec, Harper -- speaking in the wake of his government's 'Quebecois-nation' motion -- said the Quebecois had become a nation through a history of building, not through a constitutional process.

"Canadians everywhere see that Quebec has a unique culture and history, a nation, that gave birth to Canada."

With files from The Canadian Press