Harper on Marois' Scottish trip: no comment

Posted By: Richard Deschamps · 2/1/2013 5:08:00 PM

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is in Quebec attending a funding announcement today for a ferry system in the provincial capital.

The federal government will kick in roughly one-third of the estimated $19 million to refurbish the ferry from Levis, Que., across the river from Quebec City.

Harper made the announcement with Premier Pauline Marois, who he is also meeting privately.

They are holding separate news conferences, however, because Marois wouldn't agree on the prime minister's more tightly controlled conditions for holding a media event.

It is their second meeting since the Parti Quebecois leader became premier last September.

At his news conference, Harper was asked about the damage his Employment Insurance reforms might do in Quebec, with its large number of seasonal workers in tourism, forestry and fisheries.

He was also asked whether he might transfer some responsibility for EI to the province, as Marois' pro-independence PQ is demanding.

Harper didn't have much to say on the matter. He simply replied that the program would continue to operate out of Ottawa.

"Employment Insurance is clearly a federal responsibility under the Canadian Constitution,'' Harper replied.

"The federal government intends to live up to its responsibilities in that regard.''

He also avoided saying too much when asked about Marois' less-than-triumphant trip to Scotland this week.

The PQ premier had earlier hyped her meeting with the Scottish nationalist leader Alex Salmond as a landmark opportunity to discuss separation strategies. But the Scottish leader didn't take her up on an offer to share old referendum files and didn't appear with her in public.

That trip to Edinburgh has earned Marois ribbing from opponents and commentators back home. Some have also bemoaned her performance in an interview with the BBC, where she struggled with some English turns of phrase.

Harper was asked whether it was appropriate for the premier to have been pitching independence abroad. He didn't bite. He simply used the opportunity to point to the case as an example of Canada's flexible federal system.

"In our federation premiers have the right to travel and to promote their agenda, and their programs,'' Harper said.

"It's the nature of our federation, and I won't comment on the trips of other first ministers.''

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