Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper stunned Parliament on Wednesday by declaring French-speaking Quebec province to be a "nation" within Canada.

The move was seen as an effort to render ineffective an upcoming motion by Quebec separatists who want the province recognized as a nation, but apart from Canada.

The citizens of Quebec have twice voted down referendums seeking independence from Canada, most recently in 1995.

The Bloc Quebecois, the separatist party in Canada's House of Commons was expected to introduce its motion later Thursday. Mr. Harper said the bloc's motion, if adopted, might lead to another separation referendum.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.