The Parti Québécois government is poised to launch an offensive against Ottawa as part of a “sovereignist governance” strategy adopted by cabinet.
Alexandre Cloutier, Minister for Canadian Intergovernmental Affairs, said the attack will be on the federal government’s reforms of employment insurance, which the PQ contends are especially harmful to seasonal workers in Quebec.
Sovereignist governance is the name of the PQ government’s plan to demand that Ottawa surrender more powers to Quebec and stop intruding into provincial jurisdiction.
“Today, we adopted the government’s policy on sovereignist governance, which are concrete steps that will be presented to Quebeckers. And these concrete steps will begin next week. Stay alert, you will be getting all the details soon,” Mr. Cloutier said. “What we want is to fight federal interference in our affairs, offer more efficient government, make our case to Quebeckers and defend the workers.”
It is estimated that 40 per cent of the country’s seasonal workers live in Quebec. Under the EI reform, some workers could lose benefits if they do not accept jobs within an hour’s drive of their residence, and others could be required to take less pay than they had before.
The PQ condemned the reform, and Premier Pauline Marois recently demanded that Prime Minister Stephen Harper hand the province control of EI. Mr. Harper not only refused, but may cut $116-million from the provincial labour training program in its budget expected in the coming weeks.
The Quebec National Assembly unanimously adopted a motion on Wednesday calling on Ottawa to renew the labour training program when it expires on March 31, 2014. Quebec signed an agreement with the federal government in 1997 that transferred the training to Quebec, along with 1,000 federal employees. A new arrangement negotiated in 2008 allowed welfare recipients to be included in the programs.
Although the National Assembly motion did not mention sovereignist governance, Mr. Cloutier said that the government will use the result of the vote in its fight against Ottawa’s EI reforms. “This falls into what we are seeking with our sovereignist governance strategy,” he said.
As part of the strategy, the PQ will attempt to demonstrate to Quebeckers that overlapping federal services can be costly and inefficient, and to argue for more powers in culture and labour training, and full control over the federal-provincial infrastructure program that expires next year.
“There are economic advantages to seeking more powers,” said Treasury Board President Stéphane Bédard. “The same amount of money spent by two levels of government would be better spent if it was controlled by Quebec.”
The Harper government has indicated that it rejects the demands.
“We will seek more powers, but above all else we want Quebec to become an independent country,” Mr. Bédard said.
After six months in power, a sense of urgency is growing within the PQ to begin acting on sovereignty and boost nationalist fervour. The more social democratic wing of PQ supporters have expressed disappointment with several Marois government decisions, especially proposed cuts in welfare payments to recipients such as older workers or couples with young children to force them back into the labour market. Others were troubled that it announced an increase in university tuition fees after attacking the former Liberal government on the issue.
The discontent has spilled over into the general population. The government’s disapproval rating has increased to 68 per cent, according to a Léger marketing poll released in the Journal de Montréal/Journal de Québec on Wednesday. The poll also showed the PQ at 31 per cent in popular support compared with 30 per cent support for the Liberals, who have been without a leader since the September election. A new Liberal leader will be chosen at the party leadership convention on Sunday.