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Why the Parti Québécois is going easier on Ottawa

Quebec Premier Pauline Marois responds during a news conference Thursday, May 30, 2013 in Quebec City as Health Minister Rejean Hebert looks on.


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The Marois government has drafted a 20-point bulletin to guide its interactions with Ottawa and the other provinces, all aimed at protecting Quebec's exclusive areas of jurisdiction and fostering the Parti Québécois' plans for sovereignty.

Still, the internal edict is surprisingly non-confrontational and could largely be defended by any other government in Quebec City, where protecting provincial areas of responsibility in the face of any federal encroachment is part of the political DNA.

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The document started circulating inside the Marois government last April, and came to light on the TVA news network last week. The Globe and Mail has since obtained a copy.

The main goal of the document is to ensure that the Quebec government keeps up its existing bilateral relationship with Ottawa, and continues to participate in most interprovincial discussions. At the same time, the government wants to ensure that it asserts its distinct status and point of view among governments on the Canadian stage.

The document is a clear illustration that the Marois government's plans for "sovereigntist governance" were toned down after the tough talk in last year's election, given the PQ's fragile minority status in the National Assembly.

Ahead of last September's election, PQ MNA Bernard Drainville said in an interview that a PQ government would make constant demands to the federal government, and that whatever followed would be a victory for his government.

"I don't see how we can lose," he told The Globe and Mail. "If Quebec wins, it becomes stronger. If Quebec is rebuffed, the demonstration is made that there is a limit to our ability to progress in this country."

However, the new PQ document highlights how Quebec Premier Pauline Marois and her cabinet, led by Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Alexandre Cloutier, have watered down their strategy.

In terms of its dealings with the federal government, the first point of the bulletin states that Quebec "will showcase heightened vigilance regarding federal interventions and will systematically denounce those that violate Quebec's exclusive jurisdictions."

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Quebec City will continue to "favour bilateral, government-to-government relations" with the federal government.

Quebec will also agree to periodically join in with other provinces in their negotiations with Ottawa "when it is in Quebec's interest." The main exception, according to the Quebec government, will be federal-provincial negotiations involving areas of sole provincial responsibility, in which the PQ government plans to sit on the sidelines.

As part of her government's strategy, Ms. Marois is scheduled to participate in the next first ministers' conference in Ontario (Niagara-on-the-Lake) this summer.

According to the document, the Quebec government will "defend and promote" the province's interests at all inter-provincial meetings, while sharing its own best practices with the other provinces.

Still, the PQ government is promising to stand out at the next meeting of Canada's premiers. The new rules state that after every such meeting, the government will "systematically issue its own news release, even if it agrees to the final joint news release."

Daniel Leblanc is a parliamentary reporter in Ottawa.

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