Friday, March 23, 2007

Quebec leaders complain of Harper interference.

Harper sometimes seems to not be well managed. Comments about negotiating only with a Federalist government hardly help federalists in Quebec but then Harper is not cosy with Liberals (the Federalists) but with BQ (federally) who support his budget so you would think he would be against Charest. But then Charest was a Conservative. It is hard to keep all these chameleons sorted out!Anyway I imagine that all three main Quebec parties would be even more upset if Harper had not intervened and given Quebec a hefty equalization payment to right the fiscal imbalance.

Quebec leaders decry Ottawa 'interference'

Globe and Mail Update

LAC MEGANTIC, Que. and QUEBEC CITY — Quebec Premier Jean Charest urged Prime Minister Stephen Harper to butt out of the Quebec election and told Canadians he has nothing to apologize for in using their money to cut Quebec income taxes.

Mr. Charest responded yesterday to Mr. Harper's comments saying that Ottawa will only negotiate limits on federal spending power with a federalist government in Quebec. The statement suggested that if Quebeckers want more federal funds and hope one day to find a permanent settlement to the fiscal imbalance, they will need to elect a federalist premier next Monday.

The comment was viewed by all political parties in Quebec as an attempt by Ottawa to interfere in the campaign and influence the vote.

“Mr. Harper is not going to decide who is going to be the next government of Quebec and it is the people of Quebec who will decide what our agenda is,” Mr. Charest said Thursday in response to Mr. Harper's comments.

And to those in the rest of Canada who were upset that the Quebec Liberals would use a $700-million boost in federal equalization payments to Quebec announced in last Monday's budget to cut personal income taxes, Mr. Charest insisted he had every right to do it.

“I will never apologize to the rest of the country for the choices I have made,” Mr. Charest said in a stern response to the criticism, saying this was money that was slashed a decade ago and belonged to Quebeckers. “I fought so that we would get the money back. And now that we have it, I am master in my areas of jurisdiction. I am Premier of Quebec; I decide what we do in our jurisdictions.”

Mr. Charest defended the province's autonomy to make its choices and insisted he was not accountable to anybody but Quebec voters. “I decide what we do in our jurisdictions – it's not Ottawa, it's not the other provinces. I am not accountable to them,” he insisted.

Mr. Harper's comments also sparked angry responses from the other parties. On Wednesday, Parti Québécois leader André Boisclair accused Mr. Harper of trying to “blackmail” Quebeckers into voting Liberal.

Action démocratique du Québec leader Mario Dumont also took Mr. Harper to task for the statements he made about not negotiating with a separatist government.

“I think Mr. Harper's intervention is not appreciated. On Monday, we will decide among Quebeckers what we want for Quebec and we don't need the prime minister of Canada to interfere in that. This isn't an appropriate intervention at this time,” Mr. Dumont told reporters.

While lauding what he said is a new era of “open-minded federalism” under Mr. Harper's Conservative government, he said there is no place for those kinds of comments. “As much as I want to protect Quebec's powers when there is an election, the prime minister of Canada must stay out of it. This is interference that I don't think is useful at this point.”

The prime minister must "stay out of the Quebec [election] campaign. I don't think any other interventions would be appropriate," he added.

In Ottawa, the government backed down from the previous day's assertion that federal-provincial negotiations would only occur under a federalist government in Quebec.

“It's obvious that we will respect the choice of Quebeckers Monday evening. That being said, we will continue to reform Canadian federalism in order to allow Quebec to grow and become stronger inside a better and united Canada,” said Transport Minister and Quebec lieutenant Lawrence Cannon.

As the campaign draws to a close, the Liberals are increasingly resigned to a minority government scenario on Monday. A new Crop poll to be published today was expected to confirm the ADQ surge even showing the party leading in the bellweather riding of St-Jean.

Even Mr. Charest, who has been trying hard to block the idea of a minority government from his mind, almost mentioned the term before stopping just in time: “I am very confident. I know we will form a mino…a majority government on March 26.”

With a close three-way race in many crucial ridings, the last thing the Liberals need is for Ottawa to create the impression they want to muscle their way into the campaign, which could further irritate voters a few days from the election.

With a report from Daniel Leblanc in Ottawa

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