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Quebec Premier Pauline Marois, centre, poses with members of her cabinet after she was sworn in Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012, in Quebec City. (Jacques Boissinot/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Quebec Premier Pauline Marois, centre, poses with members of her cabinet after she was sworn in Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012, in Quebec City. (Jacques Boissinot/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Politics

PQ cabinet spoiling for sovereignty fight Add to ...

Premier Pauline Marois has set her sights on the next election campaign, appointing a cabinet to deliver an ambitious program despite the minority status of the Parti Québécois.

Few expect the PQ government to survive more than two years, and Ms. Marois was determined to put forward an economic and political agenda that will clash with the opposition but give the PQ plenty of ammunition to fight another election.

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Picking the right battles with Ottawa and implementing the yet-to-be-defined “sovereigntist governance” strategy will be handled by the Premier herself. She’ll be assisted by Alexandre Cloutier, junior minister of intergovernmental affairs.

“I will be responsible for the Canadian intergovernmental affairs file and the sovereigntist governance. The junior minister will report directly to me,” Ms. Marois said. “My government is sovereigntist. Remaining a province of Canada constitutes a risk. … We have the firm conviction that the future of Quebec is to become a sovereign country.”

Her objective will be to establish the limits of provincial status within Canada in order to show what could be accomplished if Quebec was a sovereign nation. Part of the strategy was to appoint Maka Kotto as Minister of Culture and Communications to demand that federal powers and funding in these two jurisdictions be handed over to Quebec.

Meanwhile, former PQ adviser Jean-François Lisée will seek to promote sovereignty abroad as Minister of International Affairs while building bridges between the francophone and anglophone communities as the minister responsible for Montreal.

The PQ will set out to establish its credentials as efficient managers of the economy by balancing the budget during the next fiscal year while abolishing the $200 health tax and eliminating university tuition fee hikes.

In order to meet the economic and fiscal challenges ahead, Ms. Marois appointed Nicolas Marceau as Finance Minister, a little-known former economics professor who has been the PQ’s finance critic for the past two years. Ms. Marois directed him to review the role of the province’s pension fund, the Caisse de dépot et placement du Québec. She wants it to play a much more important role in the province’s economy.

“I am aware that the other parties disagree on certain points with us. But we will make proposals, we will negotiate, we will use creativity, intelligence and I’m sure we will reach agreements when required,” Mr. Marceau said.

The business community will be closely monitoring the appointment of two strong defenders of sustainable development to key ministries. Martine Ouellet, a staunch critic of Plan Nord and the mining industry, was named Minister of Natural Resources. And Daniel Breton, an environmental activist, was handed the Ministry of the Environment.

“We are in the 21st century and it is time that the ‘greens’ be in power,” Mr. Breton said.

Perhaps the most difficult task was given to Bernard Drainville, the Minister of Democratic Institutions and Citizen Participation. He will be responsible for drafting policies that will define the PQ’s controversial politics of identity. These include a secularism charter and a bill on Quebec identity, policies that have been heavily criticized by the two major opposition parties – and which likely will be met with strong resistance.

“We understand that we cannot move alone on these issues. We are going to have to work with other parties … and we’ll do it in a very responsible and cautious manner,” Mr. Drainville said.

Ms. Marois rewarded her loyal followers, handing over key ministries to the likes of Agnes Maltais as Labour Minister, Stéphane Bédard as House Leader and President of the Treasury Board, Marie Malavoy in the Education portfolio, and Nicole Léger as Minister of Family.

But eight newly elected MNA’s were promoted to cabinet and given senior positions. Réjean Hébert, the former dean of the faculty of medicine at the University of Sherbrooke, was appointed Minister of Health with the task of managing close to half of the province’s budget.

Former journalist Pierre Duchesne was appointed to the newly created Ministry for Higher Education, with the responsibility of building bridges with the province’s militant student movement. Students held a four-month strike last spring against tuition fee hikes, creating provincewide social unrest. Another political neophyte, Elaine Zakaïb, was handed the junior ministry of industrial policies. She has the task of creating the Quebec Economic Development Bank by retrieving federal venture-capital funds invested in Quebec.

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