Couillard says little desire for national unity debate, wants one anyway

Couillard says little desire for national unity debate, wants one anyway

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard said Thursday he is fully aware there is currently little appetite across the country to re-open the Canadian Constitution.

His government is nevertheless going in that direction anyway, the premier told reporters.

“I’ll make a bet, If you go and ask any of the premiers across the country I don’t think anyone would want to open the Constitution right now,” Couillard said.

He said there is the impression in Canada that citizens shouldn’t talk about the fact Quebec never signed the Constitution when it was patriated from the U.K. in 1982.

Or speak about the failed constitutional accord attempts that led to the 1995 referendum, which the sovereigntists narrowly lost.

“The signal I’m sending is that the issue is still here and it won’t go away,” Couillard said. “It’s about co-existence and having an allegiance to Quebec as well as a belonging to Canada.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau let his feelings known with a curt answer on his way to a cabinet meeting in Parliament Thursday morning.

“You know my opinion on the Constitution,” Trudeau said. “We’re not reopening the Constitution.”

Couillard said the goal of his government’s proposal is to “start a dialogue” about Quebec’s place in the country, which he hopes will lead to the eventual reopening of constitutional negotiations and to Quebec finally signing the 1982 document.

The government’s thinking on Quebec’s place within Canada was released Thursday — a 200-page founding document entitled, “Quebecers: Our Way of Being Canadians.”

He said concrete examples of how his government plans to do that will be released in the coming months.

It states his government plans on ensuring “a stronger presence on the Canadian stage by using the structural and substantive means at its disposal.”

Couillard said his government will do so by working with other provinces to increase the number of French speakers outside Quebec as well as “financially support the participation of Quebec academics presenting their research at symposia.”

Pundits, opposition politicians and journalists were quick to jump on Couillard’s announcement.

Some said the Liberals were trying to deflect attention away from corruption scandals.

Others suggested the Liberals were using the time-tested strategy of focusing voters’ attention on Constitutional issues before a 2018 provincial election, in order to divide the population along federalist-sovereigntist lines.

Parti Quebecois Leader Jean-Francois Lisee said Couillard’s move suggests that all is not well between Quebec and Canada.

“I want to salute the fact that he recognizes the problem,” Lisee said. “He’s been in denial for the last three years, saying that there was no problem with Quebec within Canada. And now, he says the problem is so great that we have to change — and I’m quoting here — ‘so that Quebecers do not feel like exiles in their own country.'”

Lisee said he wants to hear what Couillard will propose.

“If you want to fix a problem, the first thing to do is to recognize its existence. And today, at last, he recognizes the problem,” he said.

The Canadian Press


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