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During visit from French PM, Marois offers to help organize elections in Mali

Quebec Premier Pauline Marois with French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault in Quebec City on Friday.

Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

Quebec is offering its assistance to organize elections in Mali as France moves closer to bringing political stability to the war-ravaged country.

Premier Pauline Marois noted that Quebec has helped other developing countries organize elections, and the province's Chief Electoral Officer could co-ordinate the vote in Mali next July.

French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault welcomed Quebec's support for France's intervention in the West African country against Islamist rebels. Expressing "sincere" appreciation for Canada's involvement in Mali, he said France's allies will be needed to ensure the peaceful transition to democracy and economic development.

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"The political transition must be pursued … so that a democratic regime can be put into place, which is absent because of the recent political crisis," Mr. Ayrault said after a meeting with Ms. Marois. "And as I said to you [Ms. Marois] – and I raised this with the Canadian Prime Minister – there is a necessity for solidarity with regards to [economic] development."

This was the first time in over a decade that a French prime minister has visited Quebec with a separatist government in power. Mr. Ayrault tiptoed through the political minefield on the issue of Quebec sovereignty without causing a diplomatic incident. And while he underscored the important cultural ties between France and Quebec, he avoided the issue of protecting the French language, which has recently sparked a passionate debate in the province.

Mr. Ayrault has said France's policy towards Quebec is "in continuity" with what it has been for 30 years, a reference to the "non-indifference and non-interference" formula. Mr. Ayrault refused to use the term publicly.

In 2009, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy broke with the policy by coming down firmly on the side of Canadian national unity. In a public speech, he called for "the rejection of sectarianism, the rejection of division, the rejection of self-confinement." Mr. Sarkozy's successor, François Hollande, restored the so-called "ni-ni" policy when Ms. Marois visited France last October. But France remained cautious not to ruffle Ottawa's feathers by overstating its position last fall and during Mr. Ayrault's official visit.

The focus has shifted towards developing closer economic ties with Canada using Quebec as a key player in the French government's strategy. Mr. Ayrault and Ms. Marois said the ties between the two governments would grow even closer because Canada and the European Union appeared on the threshold of reaching a trade agreement. Mr. Ayrault expressed confidence that differences on issues such as agriculture will soon be resolved.

"This not about adopting measures or provisions that will result in destabilizing what already exists," Mr. Ayrault said. "We will find the right a solution."

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About the Author
Quebec City political correspondent

Rhéal Séguin is a journalist and political scientist. Born and educated in southern Ontario, he completed his undergraduate degree in political science at York University and a master's degree in political science at the Université du Québec à Montréal.Rhéal has practised journalism since 1978, first with Radio-Canada in radio and television and then with CBC Radio. More

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