In pursuit of its "sovereignist governance" agenda, the Parti Québécois has pulled out of a Council of the Federation working group on health care, arguing the other provinces were openly welcoming federal government intrusion in a provincial jurisdiction.
The withdrawal appears to be part of Premier Pauline Marois's strategy to confront Ottawa in the coming months. The PQ is poised to unveil its plan to promote sovereignty at a party meeting next weekend in Drummondville.
Quebec said it could no longer work with other provinces on health care, claiming the other premiers were opening the door to having Ottawa interfere in the management of a provincial jurisdiction.
In a letter last month to Prince Edward Island Premier Robert Ghiz, co-chair of the provincial-territorial Health Care Innovation Working Group, two Quebec ministers said their government disagreed with several of the initiatives undertaken in this area by the other provinces. The letter said the working group was clearly steered toward the "co-management" of certain health-care services, while welcoming Ottawa's participation in the process.
"Quebec will not support such a collaboration of the federal government, its agencies or organizations in the Council of the Federation's work," Quebec Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Alexandre Cloutier and Health Minister Réjean Hébert said in a joint letter sent on Jan. 11, 2013, to Mr. Ghiz.
Mr. Cloutier told a National Assembly committee hearing on Monday that Quebeckers expected their government to enforce sovereignty in its jurisdictions rather than follow the path of other provinces.
"We will never accept that other provinces approve further federal government encroachment in our areas of jurisdiction," Mr. Cloutier told the committee. "There seems to be a desire from other Canadian provinces for a greater federal presence in our jurisdiction."
Quebec's withdrawal from the provincial-territorial working group was the first concrete sign that the PQ government is distancing itself from the other provinces to pursue its own course of action. The PQ suspects the Council of the Federation is being used by Ottawa to interfere in provincial affairs.
"The Quebec government will also act to acquire new powers in areas such as culture, manpower and areas of municipal infrastructure. Obviously, when the time comes, the government of Quebec will hold a referendum so that Quebec can become a country," Mr. Cloutier told the committee.
The opposition Liberals blasted the government's pro-sovereignty agenda, saying the Marois government had no mandate to pursue it. The Liberals added that it will harm Quebec's ability to create a common front with other provinces to press Ottawa for more money when the current federal-provincial health-care funding deal expires in 2014.
"What you are saying is totally incompatible. You want to confront Ottawa but you are separating yourself from the other Canadian provinces. That for me is sovereignist governance; it amounts to practising empty-chair politics," said Liberal intergovernmental affairs critic Pierre Moreau.