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Quebec's new culture minister, Diane Lemieux, wasted no time picking a fight yesterday. She declared that Ontario, compared with Quebec, has no culture to speak of.

"I believe there is no real Ontario culture," she said after being sworn in.

"We are less capable of naming it than we can the Quebec culture. It is part of our lives, our history."

She said Quebec outdoes other parts of Canada in culture. "All the observers know that we have a level of cultural production that is much higher, in terms of our demographics, than elsewhere."

Ask whether this showed a bias against English-Canadian culture, she said: "No. It is stating a fact that Quebec culture has a meaning all to itself. I'm not saying theirs is less valid. I'm saying that Quebec culture, given that we are a francophone people in a North American universe, the colour and flavour of our culture is quite different."

In Ontario, her assessment was not welcomed.

"It strikes me as silly," said English professor Russell Brown, who studies Canadian cultural themes at the University of Toronto.

"I guess if I were going to start identifying Ontario culture, I might start with Al Purdy and look at his poetry and look at the expression of intense Loyalist sentiment and attachment to the land."

Peter Hinchcliffe, a professor of Canadian literature at the University of Waterloo, said the two provinces have been shaped by different immigration patterns. "There's certainly an Ontario culture, but it has different roots and takes different forms than the culture of Quebec. For example, it's not as homogeneous, but that's neither a virtue nor a vice; it's a product of our history."

Peter Reich, a U of T linguistics professor, said: "If you define culture as the lively arts or television and movies and that sort of thing, I would say that we're a major powerhouse in North America. . . . To the extent that English Canada has a culture at all, I think we dominate it, for better or worse."

Derek Tupling, press secretary to Ontario Culture Minister Tim Hudak, said his boss "would be more than happy to show the new minister around Ontario, bring her down and show her some of the great things that Ontario has to offer. Ontario's rich with culture; there's no doubt about it."

Mr. Hudak, who moved to culture last month from a post in charge of northern development and mines, was at a political fundraiser and could not be reached.

Ms. Lemieux's comments appeared to underscore the aggressive style of the new premier, Bernard Landry, in his pursuit of sovereignty.

"It is clear that I will pursue with all my determination the quest for our national sovereignty," he said in a speech yesterday after the swearing-in of his cabinet. "My action in this sense will be guided by one powerful, central idea that is now the basis of a wide consensus: Quebec forms a nation."

He opted for continuity in appointing his cabinet, outlining a pragmatic approach to achieving sovereignty and reiterating the need to define a new union between Quebec and Canada.

"I profoundly believe that our national future rests on the creation of a Canada-Quebec binational union, a type of confederation inspired by the exemplary model that has created harmony and prosperity in Western Europe," he said.

He appeared to be guided by a will to build support among the underprivileged and women voters, a constituency which has remained hesitant in supporting sovereignty. At the same time he moved to consolidate his government's support in the predominantly francophone regions of the province, by revamping the Ministry of the Regions.

Mr. Landry moved many old faces into new portfolios in a shuffle that failed to live up to the type of major overhaul many observers expected. The only newcomer was a non-elected figure from the world of tennis, Richard Legendre, who was appointed minister responsible for tourism, sport and recreation.

Pauline Marois, the voice of social democracy in the government, was appointed Finance Minister and Deputy Premier and becomes the province's second most powerful politician. She was asked by Mr. Landry "to sustain the creation of wealth and to find better ways to share it," in what may signal important tax cuts for low and middle-income families in the next budget. As part of an effort to project a more progressive, left-wing image, Jean Rochon was appointed Minister of Labour, Employment and Social Solidarity with the specific task of eliminating poverty.

Mr. Landry unveiled a new department called the Ministry Responsible for the Fight Against Poverty and Exclusion, headed by Nicole Leger. It will be guided by Mr. Rochon's policy initiatives.

A loyal Landry supporter, Gilles Baril, was appointed to the revamped Ministry of Regions which also includes responsibility for industry, trade and tourism . Mr. Baril who is also Mr. Landry's main campaign organizer, will play an important political role in increasing voter support in the regions in preparation for an election.

Experience dictated Mr. Landry's decision to keep several veteran ministers in their current portfolios. They include Municipal Affairs Minister Louise Harel, Natural Resources Minister Jacques Brassard, International Affairs Minister Louise Beaudoin and Transport Minister Guy Chevrette.

Liberal Opposition Leader Jean Charest was highly critical of Mr. Landry's bid to use the mandate former premier Lucien Bouchard won in 1998 to promote sovereignty.

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