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Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Alexandre Cloutier is shown in January 2012. Mr. Cloutier has denied opposition charges that the PQ government is using public funds to promote Quebec independence.

Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

The Parti Québécois government denies opposition charges that it is using public funds to promote Quebec independence and senior civil servants are working on a strategy to achieve sovereignty.

The Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs responsible for "sovereignist governance," Alexandre Cloutier, insisted that as a minority government, the PQ's hands are tied and there are no efforts to prepare another referendum any time soon.

"There is not a single civil servant working on Quebec sovereignty … and there has been no budget increase for this," Mr. Cloutier said.

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But the PQ's minority status won't stop his government from pursuing a strategy of confronting the federal government to obtain more powers and stop Ottawa's intrusion into areas of provincial jurisdiction, he said.

"Sovereignist governance means ending encroachment by the federal government, making Quebec more efficient, insisting on the respect of whatever sovereignty Quebec already has [in various jurisdictions] and increasing the powers of the National Assembly," Mr. Cloutier said. "We will stand up to Ottawa on the various issues that divide us."

There is certainly no shortage of complaints on the PQ's list against the Conservative government in Ottawa. From recent changes to employment insurance that critics argue will play havoc with seasonal workers – 40 per cent of seasonal workers in Canada work in Quebec – to federal funding for a major hydro-electricity project in Newfoundland and Labrador, abolition of the long-gun registry and even foreign aid, the PQ government believes it has enough political ammunition to launch its offensive against Ottawa.

The strategy, which amounts to achieving more autonomy for Quebec within Canada, will be unveiled "soon," Mr. Cloutier said, refusing to say how his government intends to wrestle the new powers away from Ottawa.

In the meantime, the PQ will spend its own funds to promote Quebec sovereignty as part of a communications strategy that will be unveiled next month.

The opposition parties contend that the PQ's plan to use party funds to promote sovereignty as well as the government's pursuit of "sovereignist governance" are part of the same strategy to lure Quebeckers into a debate on their political future.

The Liberals demanded to know which tax dollars will be used to pursue the so-called "sovereignist governance" strategy and why it has been kept secret from the public.

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"In the current economic context where spending is being cut, why was the Parti Québécois stubbornly using public funds to pursue a mandate that the population has never given it?" asked Liberal House Leader Robert Dutil. His Coalition Avenir Québec party counterpart, Gérard Deltell, added that there were more pressing issues to deal with than asking Quebeckers to revisit sovereignty in what he considered to be a futile debate.

However, the PQ appeared determined to bring the issue back to the forefront hoping that events both at home and abroad will reignite interest in the issue. One such event being closely monitored by the PQ is the referendum on Scotland's independence from the United Kingdom that will be held in the fall of 2014.

PQ Premier Pauline Marois will meet with her Scottish counterpart, First Minister Alex Salmond, next week in Edinburgh, the first such meeting between the heads of government of Scotland and Quebec.

"This will be an historical meeting … a meeting where the objective will be to sign an agreement of economic co-operation with Scotland," Mr. Cloutier said. "There will be an important historical event with the holding of a referendum in Scotland in 2014 and no doubt there we will be exchanges on this issue."

Mr. Cloutier will join Ms. Marois next week during the U.K. portion of her European trip that began this week with her participation at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

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