After proclaiming that Quebec should speak in its own voice, Pauline Marois criticized Stephen Harper’s international outlook as foreign to Quebeckers’ values in a speech delivered in Paris to an audience of diplomats, elected officials, and students.
“Quebeckers no longer recognize themselves in Canada’s foreign policy, which has turned its back to a tradition of openness, mediation, and multilateralism,” Ms. Marois said on Tuesday during a half-hour address at the French Institute for International Relations. Ms. Marois said the death of the Kyoto accord on greenhouse gas emissions perfectly symbolizes this: Quebeckers expected more ambitious emission reductions, while Ottawa pressed for more lenient targets.
In her speech, Ms. Marois praised former Liberal prime minister Lester B. Pearson as the creator of a peacekeeping force and the winner of a Nobel Peace Prize for his role in settling the Suez canal crisis. “He inspired Canada’s foreign policy for 50 years,” she added.
Jean-Pierre Blackburn, Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and a former Conservative cabinet member, was in attendance. Asked if he found it ironic that a sovereigntist premier would cite a Canadian prime minister as a model, he chose instead to underscore what he saw as contradictions in her remarks.
Ms. Marois praised Europe’s political construction as able to balance the tension between the individual states’ desire to preserve their autonomy and the need to find common tools to deal with the public debt crisis. “In the European Union, each state voluntarily constrains the scope of its policies and its capacity to make its own decisions,” Ms. Marois said in response to a question. “But at the same time, each country remains sovereign for most of the important policies it aspires to enact.”
Mr. Blackburn said Ms. Marois was, in essence, speaking out of both sides of her mouth. “On the one side, we saw her defend the European community, and on the other, advocate the separation of Quebec,” he said.
Ms. Marois’s assertiveness in France is a departure from the restraint she showed in Kinshasa at the Francophonie summit last weekend. This was her first trip abroad since she was sworn in as Quebec Premier a month ago. She qualified her Saturday meeting with Mr. Harper as “very cordial” and “almost warm.”
More telling, she did not utter a word when Ottawa shot down the idea that Francophonie countries recommend that Africa have a designated seat at the United Nations Security Council. Ms. Marois had publicly stated that she is sympathetic to this demand from African countries.
When asked about her apparent change in tone, Ms. Marois said she had not shifted her party’s position. “These are things we said while we were in opposition, and we haven’t changed our minds,” she said.
Ms. Marois continued her high-level meetings on Tuesday. After she met with President François Hollande on Monday, she saw Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici. A long-time aficionado of Quebec, Mr. Moscovici went out of his way to meet Ms. Marois just as he was about to present his budget to the National Assembly. The two spoke of the free trade talks between Canada and Europe, negotiations for which are in their final stretch in Brussels.
In a press conference at Bercy, the Finance Minister’s headquarters, Mr. Moscovici confirmed that France and Quebec are allies on two issues they deem crucial: the protection of French culture through a “cultural exemption” and the limitation of actions companies can take against governments under a free trade deal. “Since our parties share the same concerns, we are extremely close,” Mr. Moscovici stated.
“Free trade can be the worst or the best of things,” the Finance Minister added, before saying that he was both “optimistic and watchful” of talks under way.
Ms. Marois will cap her three-day visit in France on Wednesday with a breakfast meeting with French executives who head affiliates in Quebec.