Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has told a debate in parliament that he regards the province of Quebec as a "nation within Canada".
Mr Harper was responding to a motion by Quebec separatists that MPs should "recognise Quebecois form a nation".
Francophone Quebec has previously held two referendums on separation, in 1980 and 1995, but rejected the idea.
Mr Harper's Conservatives won Canada's general election in January to end 12 years of Liberal rule.
Analysts say the motion is proving problematic for federalists.
An acceptance would encourage talks towards separatism but a rejection could bolster the separatists' belief that their aspirations are being ignored.
On Wednesday, Mr Harper backed the notion that the House of Commons should "recognise that Quebecois constitute a nation within a united Canada".
He said: "The real question is simple: do Quebecois make up a nation of their own in a united Canada? The answer is yes.
"Do Quebecois make up a nation independent from Canada? The answer is no and will always be no."
The leader of the Bloc Quebecois party opposed the prime minister's position.
"It isn't up to the prime minister to decide what Quebecers will choose as an option. It's up to Quebecers," Gilles Duceppe said.
January's elections was called following revelations that Liberal politicians in Quebec had taken kickbacks in return for awarding government contracts.
Afterwards Mr Harper pledged a renewed drive for federalism for Quebec.
"We will do this because shuffling the deck in Ottawa is not good enough," he said at the time.
The Conservatives made significant gains in Quebec.