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Federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver, left, met with his Quebec counterpart, Carlos Leitao, on Tuesday. (Clement Allard/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver, left, met with his Quebec counterpart, Carlos Leitao, on Tuesday. (Clement Allard/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Oliver sees chance for economic reform in Quebec’s new government Add to ...

Federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver views the election of Philippe Couillard’s Liberal government in Quebec as a “historic opportunity” to develop a national economic policy.

But no sooner had Mr. Oliver expressed his desire for a new era of co-operation than his cabinet colleague Maxime Bernier accused Quebec of being nothing more than beggars, always demanding more from Ottawa.

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There are several bones of contention between the two levels of governments, including Ottawa’s decision to set up a national markets regulator, which Quebec strongly opposed. Alberta and Quebec won a favourable decision from the Supreme Court of Canada, which recognized the provinces’ regulatory system as a provincial jurisdiction.

But Mr. Oliver said the newly elected federalist government in Quebec is showing “a greater openness overall on everything” a first sign that the two governments were working toward solutions.

“We can together make it a lot better than it has been for a long time. I view this as an historic opportunity,” Mr. Oliver said in a telephone interview after meeting with his Quebec counterpart, Carlos Leitao. “We have an opportunity to really make some very constructive changes and improvements.”

Mr. Oliver told Quebec that it would have at least as much influence in regulating markets as it now has with its own regulatory commission. He insisted that Ottawa has a responsibility to oversee markets and reassure the international community of the solidity of its banking and financial system.

Mr. Leitao hasn’t closed the door to a possible solution to the long-standing conflict over the creation of a national regulatory body. “There was no ‘take it or leave it.’ We remain open-minded. We are trying to find a solution that would allow Ottawa to abide by its international commitments,” Mr. Leitao said.

But also on Tuesday, in a speech in Montreal, Mr. Bernier told members of the business community that for Quebec to win back some pride and find its place in Canada, it needed to review its interventionist policies to generate wealth and stop “begging” from the federal government. “I am not proud to be a Quebecker when we are a poor province. I want Quebec to be a rich province. If we are poor it is not the fault of the rest of Canada,” said Mr. Bernier, who represents the Quebec riding of Beauce.

Mr. Bernier’s comments sparked outrage especially among the opposition Parti Québécois members. “We are not beggars,” said former PQ finance minister Nicolas Marceau. Others called it a speech from a “colonized” man.

Mr. Leitao shrugged off the comments. “It’s not something I like to hear. I prefer Mr. Oliver’s approach,” he said.

Mr. Leitao expects changes to happen once Ottawa begins redistributing its surpluses after it reaches a balanced budget next year. “The deployment of this huge margin of manoeuvre [surpluses] will benefit everyone,” he predicted.

Quebec’s economic performance, according to the Liberals, will be the central theme of the new legislature that opened on Tuesday. Last week, an analysis by the Conference Board of Canada gave Quebec a below-average ranking. The study warned that the province’s weak economic growth over the past two decades was the result of poor productivity and its failure to attract investments as well as invest abroad.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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