Quebec premier stiffs Harper

Prime Minister Stephen Harper will meet with the premier of Quebec on Friday. But they won't be holding a news conference together.

That's because Quebec Premier Pauline Marois has refused to play along with the prime minister's rules for tightly controlled question-and-answer sessions.

According to Marois' entourage, the prime minister's communications team proposed they follow the Ottawa practice of taking questions from just four journalists and asked for their names in advance.

Marois' office said no.

The leaders will instead make a joint statement before meeting privately in Quebec City tomorrow, then any public events will be held separately.

The custom of limiting the number of questions to several journalists, whose names have been agreed upon in advance, has been standard practice since Harper took office.

That modus operandi tends to keep questions focused on hot topics of the day, so Harper news conferences will only rarely touch on an unexpected or longer-term subject.

The custom in the Quebec legislature is far more spontaneous.

Politicians there face a number of follow-up questions and are sometimes repeatedly challenged if they won't offer a complete answer. The news conferences tend to be longer.

In fact, participating in freewheeling discussion has been almost a prerequisite for political success in the province. Nearly every major federal and provincial politician, except for Harper, has over the years appeared on the sometimes-edgy talk show Tout le monde en parle.

The stunning NDP surge in the province is even frequently traced back to the late Jack Layton's 2011 appearance on that show.

Harper has declined invitations to appear on the show, although his heritage minister, James Moore, earned some plaudits for showing up and holding his ground in a few feisty exchanges.

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