‘We are going to make Quebec a country, our country’: Premier Pauline Marois promises white paper ‘on future of Quebec’
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham HughesQuebec Premier Pauline Marois speaks to reporters following a funding announcement at a theatre in Montreal, Tuesday, January 14, 2014.
TROIS-RIVIÈRES — In a campaign-style speech Wednesday night, Premier Pauline Marois spoke of winning a majority and rekindling the Parti Québécois goal of making Quebec a country, delivering her first election promise: “a white paper on the future of Quebec.”
“I am determined to get there,” she said at the opening of her speech to about 300 of the party faithful.
And wrapping it up she said, “We are going to win.
“We are going to make Quebec a country, our country.”
The white paper would ask which choice is more risky for Quebec? Remaining a Canadian province? Or becoming an independent, French-speaking country?
There would be a new referendum on leaving Canada, the premier added, but only when Quebecers want one.
Marois criticized Quebec Liberal leader Philippe Couillard for his goal of bringing Quebec into the Canadian constitution successive Liberal and PQ governments have refused to sign, by 2017, the 150th anniversary of Confederation.
The premier said Couillard wants to “lock Quebec into Canada” a status she said would not allow Quebec to protect its French language, its values and would not allow Quebec to end the duplication of government services between the federal and Quebec governments.
Quebec needs “a government closer to our needs” and “closer to our people.”
She said since the PQ came to power in September 2012, not her government, but the Conservative government of Stephen Harper has fostered conflicts between the two governments, naming as sources of conflict the federal job training program all provinces have rejected and Ottawa’s proposal for a single financial services regulator.
There has been speculation Marois will call an early election, to take advantage of polls suggesting she could win a majority government, at a time when the fortunes of Couillard and his Liberals are flagging, as a majority of French-speaking voters turn to the PQ.
But Marois said it is the opposition parties that are eager to defeat her government, provoking a new election.
She said François Legault, leader of the Coalition Avenir Québec is particularly eager for a new election, calling on her to balance Quebec’s budget in 2014-15 or face defeat.
Couillard’s position has been less clear she said, recalling the Liberal leader’s seeming acceptance of deficit budgets for a few years, before reverting to the Liberal party line and joining Legault in calling for a balanced budget.
PQ Finance Minister Nicolas Marceau has projected a $1.75-billion deficit in 2014-15 and Marois said balancing the budget would mean additional spending cuts of $2 billion, which she said would result in “fewer jobs” and “less (tax) revenues” for her government.
The PQ has been focused on its charter of Quebec values in recent months, a proposal that has split Quebecers by proposing ban on wearing religious signs, such as the Islamic hijab and the Jewish kippah, by public-sector employees, from civil servants, doctors, nurses and teachers.
But Marois only referred to the charter briefly in her 25-minute speech, criticizing Couillard for failing to defend Quebec’s values.
Instead she spoke of jobs, saying never have more Quebecers been in the workforce, and stressing job creation, foreign trade and her pet project, the electrification of transport.
Marois said the opposition parties, in calling for a balanced budget now, are choosing austerity.
“I choose prosperity,” she said and in the coming election Quebecers “will choose, I am sure, prosperity.”
Before Marois addressed the crowd, Noela Champagne, the PQ MNA for the Trois-Rivières riding of Champlain, called the premier, “She who will be premier of a majority government,” adding she does not know the timing of the election.
“We are always in an election campaign,” Champagne said. “The day after an election we are campaigning.”
Marois and her ministers have been in the Mauricie region, announcing a flurry of investments and spending commitments. But the premier raised eyebrows by arriving in Shawinigan, where her party caucus is holding a two-day meeting, aboard a shiny new helicopter.