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PM pours cold water on Couillard's constitutional plans

PM pours cold water on Couillard's constitutional plans
PM Justin Trudeau pours cold water on Couillard's constitutional plans

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard argues Canada's 150th anniversary as a nation is a good time to revisit the Constitution. PM Trudeau doesn't agree. Phil Carpenter / Montreal Gazette

QUEBEC — Prime Minister has thrown cold water on Premier Philippe Couillard’s plan to reopen the constitutional debate in Canada before it even lifts off.

“You know my opinion on the constitution,” Trudeau told a Radio-Canada reporter, on arriving at the House of Commons Thursday. “You don’t reopen the constitution.”

His comment comes even before Couillard has a chance to present his plan reopen the debate and launch what he hopes will be a coast-to-coast discussion on Quebec’s place in Canada.

A leadership campaign promise and one made by his government in the inaugural address, Couillard is returning to some familiar themes including formal recognition of the province’s distinct character.

There is no timeline for results, with Couillard proposing an essentially pedagogical exercise. Gone is the old knife-at-the-throat strategy of Quebec threatening to go its own way if change was not forthcoming.

Couillard argues Canada’s 150th anniversary as a nation is a good time to revisit the issue that has proven gut wrenching in the past for the nation.

Couillard has scheduled a 1:30 p.m. news conference in Quebec City to outline the plan, which includes a 200-page founding document titled “Quebecers: it’s our way of being Canadians (Québécois, c’est nôtre façon d’être Canadiens.)”

Other politicians pounced, too. Parti Québécois leader Jean-François Lisée spun the exercise the other way, saying Couillard’s very actions are proof all is not well in Canada.

“Philippe Couillard recognized today that Quebecers feel exiled in their own country,” Lisée said at an early morning news conference. 

“The very existence of this document is a statement, a statement on the Canadian failure to recognize the Quebec nation. And for once, we are in agreement with Mr. Couillard and have reached the same conclusion.”

He added in English: “I want to salute the fact the he recognizes the problem. He’s been in denial for the last three years saying there was no problem with Quebec within Canada and now he says the problem is so great that we have to change.

“I’m looking forward to hearing his plan to fix it.”

But Liberal ministers said Quebec’s efforts are legitimate, even overdue.

“I think it’s important to say, here’s where are,” said Treasury Board president Pierre Moreau. “We are a government that is resolutely federalist, we think the Canadian federation is a system in constant evolution.”

“All I can say is in the month of December we signed a nice agreement with Ontario, which proves Canada is  country where things get done,” added Energy Minister Pierre Arcand.

But Mercier MNA Amir Khadir said the plan is a smokescreen a way for the Couillard regime to distract voters from its recent ethical issues.

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