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Liberal MNA gives PQ the finger in National Assembly

Former Quebec Employment and Social Solidarity Minister and current Liberal MNA Julie Boulet respnds to questions over Quebec's pension plan, Thursday, February 16, 2012 at the legislature in Quebec City.

Jacques Boissinot/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Members of the Quebec National Assembly showed both the height of grace and depth of rudeness during the same session Monday.

Liberal MNA Julie Boulet drew fire and was forced to apologize after she gave the finger to the Parti Québécois. The move came after members looked on in admiration as the PQ's powerful media magnate and rookie MNA Pierre Karl Péladeau made his entry into the National Assembly in a wheelchair only a week after he crashed his bicycle, breaking several bones.

Mr. Péladeau, who is still majority owner of Quebecor Inc. is undergoing physiotherapy, but his recovery has stunned friends and foes alike.

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"I have to say I'm quite surprised," Premier Philippe Couillard said. As a medical doctor, Mr. Couillard could understand how much physical pain Mr. Péladeau would be enduring after fracturing his ribs, hip and collarbone. "It is quite courageous on his part to return so early. I am sure he is in a lot of pain because he's fractured several bones."

Mr. Péladeau appreciated the accolades and words of encouragement, saying his eagerness to begin playing his role as critic for economic development drove him to get back to work as soon as possible.

"I was ready to leave the hospital last Friday. I spent the weekend with my family … and felt I was in the appropriate shape to do my work," Mr. Péladeau said before a caucus meeting.

The camaraderie in the National Assembly changed drastically however after Ms. Boulet gave the finger to the PQ critic for integrity, Stéphane Bergeron, who called into question the truthfulness of her testimony last week before the Charbonneau Commission into corruption and party fundraising.

The former transport minister who represents Laviolette told the commission she had no knowledge of the $100,000 fundraising target demanded from cabinet ministers during former premier Jean Charest's years in power. Yet several cabinet colleagues at the time, including Mr. Couillard who was then health minister, said they were aware of the fundraising target demanded of them.

"The MNA from Laviolette said under oath she didn't know. Who is telling the truth?" Ms. Bergeron asked the government. Ms. Boulet responded from the backbenches with her crude gesture.

Outraged, the PQ demanded an immediate apology. "I've never seen anyone give the finger in the National Assembly. It is one of the worst things you can do to a colleague … Not only do we want an apology but we want to know what Mr. Couillard thinks of it," said PQ House Leader Agnès Maltais.

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Pressure from Mr. Couillard's office forced Ms. Boulet to apologize but not before blaming the incident on what she called a "vicious" opposition question.

"The question was misleading, vicious and hurtful so I reacted spontaneously with a gesture that I now regret and I apologize for it," Ms. Boulet told reporters.

The incident broke a code of good conduct members on both sides of the National Assembly had promised to follow during the current session. If the types of personal attacks witnessed in recent years at the National Assembly are returning, a key test will come during debate on June 4 after the Liberal government tables its first budget.

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