The Parti Quebecois government was grilled Monday about its sovereignty agenda, when the opposition asked the party about the cost of Premier Pauline Marois’s recent trip to Scotland.

Marois paid a diplomatic visit to Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond on Tuesday, marking the Parti Quebecois leader's final stop on a week-long European visit.

Marois met with the Scottish sovereigntist counterpart just ahead of Scotland’s independence vote.

Alexandre Cloutier, Quebec's minister for both Canadian Intergovernmental Affairs and Sovereignist Governance, was not able to say how much the trip cost before a parliamentary hearing Monday, saying that he will figure that out at a later date.

The ministry for Sovereignist Governance also received a 10 per cent budget increase this year, despite major cutbacks in other government departments.

Cloutier said the boost is justified as a way to defending Quebec's interests in Canada -- not abroad -- and that it is the government's way of promoting sovereignty.

Liberal MNA Pierre Moreau said Quebec has no mandate to use any public funds to promote sovereignty.

“It's a minority government. They have no mandate whatsoever to make the separation of Quebec. I think (they should) behave according to mandate that they received from the people of Quebec,” he said.

Meantime, Cloutier released a letter (see below) indicating that Quebec has withdrawn from a working group with the other provinces negotiating a better deal with Ottawa on federal transfers to the provinces for health care.

Opposition critics slammed that decision, saying Quebec is thumbing its nose at the rest of Canada.


French-Canadians victims of 'soft ethnocide,' says report by pro-independence group

A report funded in part by the Parti Quebecois says francophones across Canada are the victims of a soft ethnocide.

The study, called the Estates-General on Quebec Sovereignty, was conducted by the Quebec independence group 'Conseil de la souverainete du Quebec.'

Partisan money from political parties -- including the Parti Quebecois -- was used to fund the project.

The Estates-General on Quebec Sovereignty project is based on the input of 1,200 people in 13 regions across the province.

The report's authors say the research represents the first phase of the project. It identifies 92 ways in which the Canadian system hinders Quebec's development against the interests and values of Quebecers.

The report underlines a wide range of issues such as the end of the long-gun registry, the competing regional interests in energy policy, and how 27 new federal ridings have been created outside Quebec compared to only three within it.

The first item on the list says Ottawa has allowed anglophone provinces to commit "soft ethnocide" on Acadians and the French-Canadian minorities.

"We're reminding people of the evolution of Canada when we systematically eliminated French at the start of the 20th century," said Gilbert Paquette, head of the pro-independence group behind the commission.

Paquette said the goal of the project was to identify problems with the Canadian Constitution and its effect on day-to-day life in Quebec.

The second phase, set to begin in April, will look at potential solutions for Quebec, he added.

"We will look at how to get rid of these shortcomings of the Constitution," said Paquette, president of the Conseil de la souverainete du Quebec. "I think this effort will link very well the sovereigntist project with everyday preoccupations of citizens."

He said participants in the first phase included people from political, environmental, union and student groups.

The project, la Commission des Etats generaux sur la souverainete du Quebec, was launched 11 months ago. The term, "estates-general," originally stems from the citizens' assemblies that existed under the French monarchy.

The initiative, however, did not generate much media interest on Monday.

Panellists outnumbered reporters at the new conference, which saw only one question from a French-language news outlet.

With a report from The Canadian Press

Letter from Alexandre Cloutier