Stephen Harper showed little interest in talking about the Parti Québecois government’s treatment of the Canadian flag during a visit to Quebec City on Friday.
The Prime Minister arrived in the provincial capital to news that the new pro-independence government had taken steps this week to officially yank the Maple Leaf from the legislature.
The move to pull the flag from its sole spot in the National Assembly met with noisy resistance from provincial opposition parties – but not from the federal Prime Minister, who steered clear of the controversy when asked about it.
“What can I say?” Mr. Harper replied, paused, and drew chuckles from an audience.
“What I can say is our priority, for the people of Quebec and for the rest of Canada, is the economy. I think that’s the real priority of Quebeckers – not old quarrels. I have no intention of participating in those old debates.”
That drew applause from a friendly crowd, as Mr. Harper announced federal plans to rebuild Quebec City’s historic military armoury that was destroyed by fire four years ago.
If Mr. Harper showed little inclination to speak about the PQ, he was no more eager Friday to speak with it.
The provincial government was miffed that it was not involved in the planning of the armoury repairs or in the announcement event, which took place near the provincial legislature.
Mr. Harper did appear at the $100-million announcement with the popular local mayor, Regis Labeaume. But there was no sign of the provincial government.
Mr. Harper insisted that wasn’t his doing. “This is, of course, strictly a federal announcement. We did extend an invitation to the [province’s} regional minister who, I gather, was unable to attend,” Mr. Harper said.
That provincial minister later explained that she was, indeed, invited – on Friday morning, before the announcement. Agnes Maltais, also the provincial MNA for the area, said she had another event scheduled.
Mr. Harper did not plan to meet with Premier Pauline Marois during his trip, and pointed out that he did meet with the Premier during the recent Francophonie summit in Congo.
His public appearance Friday took place in the shadow of the provincial assembly, the scene of a dispute over the Canadian flag.
The ornate upper chamber of the legislature, which is used for committee meetings and special ceremonies, is the only visible spot in the building where the Maple Leaf hangs.
Yves-Francois Blanchet, the PQ government Whip, made a formal request to remove it Thursday, on the 36th anniversary of the election of the first PQ government in 1976.