It's official: PQ government sworn in
Published Wednesday, September 19, 2012 8:23AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, September 19, 2012 8:39PM EDT
QUEBEC -- The Parti Quebecois has wasted no time showing its sovereigntist stripes by appointing, on its first day in office, a minister whose responsibility will be to advance the cause of Quebec independence.
A unique new portfolio -- minister responsibility for "sovereigntist government" -- was among the new cabinet positions handed out as Premier Pauline Marois took office and introduced her ministry Wednesday.
The man with that title has a doctorate in constitutional law and knows the rest of Canada better than most Pequistes: 35-year-old Alexandre Cloutier worked as a clerk at the Supreme Court of Canada and lectured at the University of Ottawa, in addition to studying at Cambridge University in the U.K.
Cloutier's mission: help loosen Quebec's ties to Canada.
The party has promised to introduce policies that could butt up against Canadian constitutional law and confront the federal government for a transfer of powers -- and use each case as evidence of how Quebec would be better off on its own.
"It is becoming apparent to us that remaining a province of Canada has become an unacceptable risk for Quebec," Premier Pauline Marois said as she introduced her cabinet, with the Canadian flag once again gone from the Red Room in the provincial legislature as it is whenever the PQ holds office.
"It is imperative to advance with force our interests, to promote our identity -- not as a province but as a nation."
She said Quebec was no better, or worse, than other provinces -- just different. And Marois' government will argue that on economic and cultural issues, the interests of Canada and Quebec are irreconcileable.
Marois was sworn in as the 30th premier of Quebec, becoming the very first woman to hold the job in that province. She has become the fifth current female premier of a Canadian province or territory.
The daughter of a garage mechanic and a teacher, Marois has held a number of powerful political roles in a 30-year career that has seen her run most of the largest provincial ministries.
There were numerous bumps and challenges on the road to high office. In opposition, she fended off challenges to her leadership and criticism that her and her husband's personal wealth would repel the electorate.
Then, when her election win finally arrived, it was marred by tragedy. Marois had to be whisked off the stage during her victory speech when a gunman approached the assembly hall and shot two people, killing a stage technician.
The accused shooter emerged again to cast a shadow over a happy moment for Marois. Richard Henry Bain, the suspect, called radio stations from his detention centre Wednesday to share his theories about how Montreal should become its own province.
Marois was held to a minority in the Sept. 4 vote; her margin of victory was less than one percentage point in the popular vote and four seats in the legislature.
That minority status makes it all but impossible for her Parti Quebecois government to hold an independence referendum.
However, with a plurality of seats in the legislature, control of ministries, and with her main Liberal opponent in the throes of a leadership race, Marois could seek to advance other parts of her agenda.
She has already called tougher language laws a central priority, while adding that she will seek consensus with opposition parties where possible.
Marois, 63, is also expected to battle Ottawa for more provincial powers, on files ranging from the federal gun registry to social and possibly even international policy.
The Harper Conservatives in Ottawa, however, have worked to keep her expectations low.
The federal government has repeatedly pointed to the narrow vote result as evidence that Quebecers don't want to squabble about constitutional issues and would rather focus on the economy.
One federal minister, Quebec lieutenant Christian Paradis, even held a news conference last week where he accused the PQ of hurting the economy by abandoning the controversial asbestos industry.
He appears poised to battle the PQ again if the new government makes good on its promise to push for a transfer of control over Quebec's share of the Employment Insurance program. The program used to be run by individual provinces, decades ago.
But Paradis said yesterday that EI is a federal responsibility and will remain that way.
"We have no mandate to dismantle the federation so we're not going to start improvising on all sorts of fronts," Paradis said yesterday in Ottawa.
He said the feds could work with Quebec to hammer out some administrative deals, perhaps, on managing EI payments -- "but not at the risk of dismantling the federation," Paradis added.