Harper says Quebecers voted for change, not separatism
Quebecers voted for change, to be sure, but the mandate they gave the Parti Quebecois isn't anywhere near robust enough for Pauline Marois to pursue her separatist agenda, Prime Minister Stephen Harper suggested Thursday.
Voters gave the premier-designate a narrow four-seat victory, a margin far too thin to bear the weight of something as significant as Quebec separating from Canada, Harper said in a televised
interview with Bloomberg News.
"The people of Quebec voted for change, a pretty strong desire for change... at the same time, I think it was pretty clear they were denying any kind of a mandate to pursue the separation of Quebec or the division of the country,'' he said.
"That's certainly how we interpret it, and that's how the government of Quebec will be forced to interpret it, one way or the other.''
Harper was addressing an elite business gathering in Vancouver before jetting off to the Pacific coast of Russia for the APEC leaders summit, which transpires this weekend.
His remarks on Quebec were his first since Marois eked out a narrow minority election win on Tuesday, one that cost Liberal Leader Jean Charest his seat in the National Assembly.
In Charest, federalists are losing one of their strongest voices in Quebec, a void it will fall to Ottawa to fill in the coming months.
Harper echoed what senior Conservatives have already suggested, that efforts are already underway to find common ground between Quebec City and Ottawa.
The principal criteria will be that it be in the shared best interests of Quebec and Canada.
"I've indicated to the premier (that), as with all provinces, we will continue to be focused on the interests of the Canadian economy,'' Harper said, specifically creating jobs and stoking the fires of long-term economic growth.
"It's our focus across the country.''
Marois has vowed to demand control over employment insurance and more power over foreign aid, culture and social programs.
Players like Christian Paradis, Harper's industry minister and Quebec lieutenant, have already made it clear they're willing to talk, but anything that would necessitate constitutional change, such as EI, is off the table.