MONTREAL -- That old hankering for an independent French-speaking Republic of Quebec on the borders of New England and upstate New York is ascendant once again.

The impulse for Quebec to secede from Canada has been rekindled by nostalgia provoked by the recent death of Rene Levesque, the founder of the separatist movement, and by the reemergence of a forceful, articulate substitute.

"I don't feel like a Canadian," said Jacques Parizeau, the new leader of the secessionist Parti Quebecois, holding forth with a cigarette in one hand and a tumbler of Scotch in the other at a session with American reporters.

"Probably {it is} because I am on the one hand too much of a citizen of the world and, secondly, because I know that my roots are here in Quebec. I don't know exactly what to do with Canada."

Elections for a new party leader are due in May, with Parizeau the only declared contender. Political observers here say it is all but certain that he will be chosen. He acknowledged that it will be an uphill battle, however, to crystallize the resurgent but still inchoate feelings of French nationalism and. He admitted that his style might be an obstacle.

"I project the image of a 1930s politician," he said. But he is modernizing the message of Quebec separatism, taking it into the 1980s, to appeal to the mercantilist sentiments of the new Quebec. While Franz Fanon's "Wretched of the Earth" had been the bible of Levesque's followers, Parizeau's catechism of secession owes more to the movie "Wall Street."

Parizeau spoke admiringly about Prime Minister Brian Mulroney's initiative for free trade with the United States, saying he believed it would lead to the creation of more millionaires in Quebec and ultimately lessen the province's economic dependence on the rest of Canada. "I'd much rather develop an independent Quebec with people who are secure in their achievement," he said.

Although he calls himself a social democrat, he talks enthusiastically about tax and fiscal reform to create a favorable climate for "dynamic entrepreneurs." But he is vague when asked precisely how he would go about detaching Quebec.

"In the past, trying to be too specific in advance has muddled the issue a great deal," he said with a smile.

In the aftermath of the death in November of Levesque, the sentiment in Quebec for making this predominantly French-speaking province of 6.5 million a sovereign country surged to a surprising 44 percent, according to a poll by the Montreal opinion research firm, Sorecom. Only 31 percent professed satisfaction with Quebec's current special status in the Canadian federation. The rest indicated indecision.

Membership in the secessionist party, which had fallen to 58,000 at the time of Levesque's death from a high of 300,000 during the 1970s, has begun to rise again. Parizeau said 10,000 persons signed on during the month after Levesque's death and that he expected the party roster to exceed 100,000 in a few weeks.

"People felt a void with Levesque's death," said Jean Pelletier, a columnist for the Journal de Montreal. "Whoever thought that the issue was dead didn't understand three centuries of Quebec history."

The slogan on the auto license tags in Quebec says "I remember." It is a declaration of the persistence of a dream of creating a New France that has endured since England vanquished France in the battle of the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City in 1759.

That defeat did not mean submission. The survivors clung to the French language and culture, becoming, as Parizeau now calls the province, "a very small island in an ocean of English-speaking people."

In the 1800s, Lord Durham of Britain, observing the nascent hybrid of French and English cultures that would be called Canada, described the place as "two nations warring in the bosom of one state."

Levesque proposed resolving the conflict by declaring the political independence of Quebec while retaining economic ties with English Canada. The voters firmly rejected that idea in a plebiscite in 1980. Five years later, disenchanted former allies nudged Levesque out of the leadership of the party.

The voters ousted the Parti Quebecois from power in the province after a tumultous nine year reign. The mainstream Liberal Party, led by technician Robert Bourassa was reinstalled as the governing party in elections two years ago. Quebeckers turned attention to repairing a provincial economy battered by the years of turmoil and uncertainty about the future of Quebec.

But Levesque's death summoned up second thoughts. More than 50,000 persons filed past his casket. The City Council renamed a major downtown boulevard in his honor.

Four blocks of the avenue jut into Westmount, the posh enclave of Montreal's former British corporate overlords, who have long been the Parti Quebecois' nemesis.

Despite all that, a poll published last month in Le Devoir, Quebec's most influential newspaper, indicated that Quebeckers still are sticking to Bourassa's Liberal Party over the Parti Quebecois by 52 percent to 29.

Columnist Pelletier explained the apparent contradictions in the opinion surveys by noting how French-Canadians, who form only about one quarter of the population of Canada, have always maneuvered to secure their position within Canada.

He said that Quebeckers say "we should keep the pressure on federally" and "let's keep {the secession issue alive} as a tool to maintain our strength in Ottawa."

Bourassa discounts the yearnings for a French-speaking republic as expressed in the opinion polls and depicts Parizeau's vision as a pipe dream that will fade when voters coldly consider it.

"What about the currency?" Bourassa asked about Parizeau's vague plan for sovereignty. "He's still not talking about the currency."

"We have a lot of leeway to develop economically, socially, culturally," Bourassa said. "So what will independence give us? A seat besides Qatar in the United Nations?"

Bourassa has misjudged sentiment here in the past. The last government he led was evicted from office by the Parti Quebecois in a 1976 upset.