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Premier Pauline Marois responds to opposition questions Tuesday in the Quebec legislature.JACQUES BOISSINOT/The Canadian Press

Quebec Premier Pauline Marois expressed "surprise" and "disappointment" at Prime Minister Stephen Harper's refusal to join the provinces to discuss the economy at the Council of the Federation meeting in Halifax.

She indicated Mr. Harper lacks sincerity when he contends the economy is his priority – yet refuses to join the premiers to address their concerns.

"When he recently came to Quebec City to announce investments in the renovations for the armoury, he said his priority was the economy," Ms. Marois recalled. "It seems to me he should have accepted the invitation by the provinces."

This will be the first meeting of the separatist premier with her provincial counterparts. The Council of the Federation was an initiative launched by her predecessor Jean Charest in 2003. The Parti Québécois has often questioned the usefulness of the meetings, calling them nothing more than a public relations forum for the former Liberal premier.

During this past summer's election campaign, Ms. Marois characterized the Council of the Federation as a "social club," but said she would nonetheless participate in its meetings.

Ms. Marois will take the opportunity to present her sovereignist credentials in what she expects to be a "friendly and cordial" meeting.

"The fundamental difference this time is that I will remind my colleagues that we are a sovereignist government, which will defend tooth and nail the interests of Quebec," Ms. Marois said before leaving for Halifax. "This won't stop us from having very good relations with the Premiers of other provinces because as an independent country Quebec will continue to have the rest of Canada as its main partner."

However as the head of a PQ minority government, Ms. Marois said she will be unable to make her case for sovereignty as strongly as she would have wanted.

The PQ Premier said she will present several of the measures aimed at boosting her province's sluggish economy, presented by her government in the budget tabled this week, in the hopes of comparing them with what other provinces are proposing.

Ms. Marois will also hold a bilateral meeting on Thursday with Alberta Premier Alison Redford to discuss the proposal to transport Western crude to Eastern markets through a pipeline that runs through Quebec.

"The first thing I want to do is understand what Alberta's plan is for this particular project. We have a certain number of questions we want to ask. As my (Minister of the Environment) colleague stated, it could have certain environmental impacts. And we have every right to raise certain questions," Ms. Marois said.