Maple Leaf back in Quebec assembly... at least for now
The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, September 18, 2012 9:19PM EDT
QUEBEC -- The Canadian flag was brought out of storage Tuesday.
The Maple Leaf made its return to the ornate Red Room of the Quebec legislature Tuesday, less than 24 hours after it was pulled out as members of the pro-independence Parti Quebecois took the oath of office.
The red and white flag was back for the swearing-in of Quebec's other main parties: Francois Legault's Coalition and, later in the day, the Opposition Liberals.
Whether it remains there, in the long run, is another issue. At this point, the odds don't appear great of this particular Maple Leaf surviving the fall on its current perch.
The flag has been used as a political yo-yo over the years, bouncing in and out of the chamber depending on which party is in power in Quebec and it has never been present the previous times the PQ has governed.
The Maple Leaf has never actually been present in the main legislative chamber but, since 1985, depending on the government of the day, it has spent periods next to the Quebec flag in the room used for ceremonial events and committee meetings.
Now it's the PQ's turn to decorate the place.
While it only has a minority government, the PQ has a majority 5-4 vote on the decision-making body that governs symbols in the national assembly building. The party has remained mum on its intentions but it would be unprecedented for it to vote in favour of keeping a flag of the country it wants to leave.
The Maple Leaf was there Tuesday morning, standing next to the Fleur-de-lis as the PQ's opponents were sworn in.
The Liberals' interim leader, Jean-Marc Fournier, spoke of his party's attachment to Canada.
In a news scrum with reporters, he also took a dig at the PQ -- noting that Quebecers had voted in two sovereignty referendums, in 1980 and 1995, and they sided against the party's separation option.
"They're dividing Quebecers, they're diving flags," Fournier said of the PQ.
"We asked Quebecers twice for their opinion and they chose to stay in Canada."
The flag has been in the chamber since 2003 when Jean Charest's Liberals took office and placed it next to the Quebec flag at the Speaker's chair in the Red Room; that chamber, across the hall from the main legislature, used to house the now-disbanded upper parliamentary house.
While less committed to Canada, Legault's new Coalition party was singing a similar tune as the Liberals.
Legault is a former PQ cabinet minister who now wants to avoid a debate on national unity; his party includes both federalists and sovereigntists who believe it's time to move on to issues beside the independence discussion.
He could have asked to have the flag removed for his party's swearing-in. But he let it stay there and he cast his decision in practical terms.
"I think it's not a priority for Quebecers," Legault said. "I think that right now, the last thing people would like to see at the national assembly is a battle over flags."
Legault said he wants to bring Quebecers together and having a "flag war" isn't the way to go. "We should keep it the way it is right now," he said.
Federal politicians avoided getting wrapped into the provincial flag debate.
NDP members either described the event as non-news or simply said the decision belonged to the province's lawmakers.
The Conservatives grumbled about the development but mainly stuck to their standard line that Quebecers would prefer to focus on economic issues, not old disputes.
The Liberals were slightly more eager to wade in.
Ex-leader Stephane Dion said he couldn't believe the NDP would have no position on the issue: "They can't even say they want to see the Canadian flag -- good grief."
One Liberal MP, Francis Scarpaleggia, whose riding is in the highly federalist west end of Montreal, said he had already received a constituent's complaint. While he called the flag removal unfortunate, he said there wasn't much he could do about it.
The flag issue also made a bit of a flap in social media -- where many expressed outrage over the removal while many others wondered what all the fuss was about.
While the Canadian flag was gone, for the PQ, there was still no escaping the Queen this week.
Every member of the PQ caucus swore an oath to the monarch, which is a prerequisite for taking office in Canada. This after the party had complained during the campaign about the increased presence of the Crown under the Harper Conservatives.
The PQ was elected two weeks ago with a minority mandate. It now holds a four-seat advantage in the legislature after winning the popular vote by less than one percentage point.