Sep 19, 2012 / 8:36 pm
The newly installed Parti Quebecois government wasted no time showing its sovereigntist stripes by appointing, on its first day in office, a minister responsible for advancing the cause of Quebec independence.
A unique new portfolio of minister for "sovereigntist government" was among the cabinet titles 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 far 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: loosen Quebec's ties to Canada.
The party has promised to introduce policies that could butt up against Canadian constitutional law, 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," 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 is no better, or worse, than other provinces, it's just different.
And she will argue that on a variety of issues, from economics to culture, the interests of Canada and Quebec are irreconcilable. She said Wednesday that her government intends to "protect each parcel of sovereignty" that Quebec already enjoys and will seek to acquire more.
In his first news scrum as a minister, Cloutier was tight-lipped about his plans. He said he would have more to say over the coming days about his portfolio, which includes intergovernmental affairs.
Asked what tone he would adopt when dealing with the federal government he replied: "The tone? The tone will depend on the issue, and on the answers we get."
It's unclear how much the PQ can achieve with only a minority government. Cloutier conceded as much, saying he would seek federal-provincial files where the PQ could work with opposition parties.
He didn't cite any examples but the gun registry, the environment, natural-resources policy, crime and transfer payments are areas where Quebec political parties share similar views and might have stark differences with the Harper Conservatives.
Cloutier won't be the only minister working on independence-related files.
Two of the hottest, most politically sensitive, portfolios will go to Bernard Drainville, the former Quebec City bureau chief of Radio-Canada, the French-language CBC.
He will be responsible for introducing an idea that he personally spearheaded, of allowing referendums by popular initiative. It's unclear how much teeth the plan will have, given that the PQ appeared to water it down slightly during the campaign.
Drainville will also lead a ministerial committee on so-called identity issues. The party promises to create a Charter of Secularism that would set limits on religious headwear being worn by public servants, and introduce a "Quebec citizenship" that people would have to get to run for public office.
He will be joined in cabinet by an old colleague, a man who followed him into Radio-Canada's Quebec City bureau as a political analyst.
Pierre Duchesne covered the emotionally charged tuition debate several months ago when he was still a TV journalist. He is now the PQ cabinet minister tasked with scrapping the tuition hikes and holding a summit on education funding.
Marois became the 30th Quebec premier and the first woman to hold the job. She is now the fifth female premier of a Canadian province or territory.
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 PQ government to hold an independence referendum.
-With files by Alexander Panetta in Montreal
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