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Politics Quebec Liberals pledge new maritime strategy, co-operation with Ottawa

Quebec Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard gestures during a maritime program announcement Friday March 7,2013 in Levis, Que.

CLEMENT ALLARD/THE CANADIAN PRESS

With an eye to overseas markets and an era of co-operation with Ottawa, Quebec Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard is promising to energize the province's maritime transport system.

On Friday, the third day of the Quebec election campaign, Mr. Couillard said he would spend $112.5-million on a maritime strategy, with nearly half of the money going toward incentives to upgrade the fleet of ships that ply the St. Lawrence River – provided the work is done in one of Quebec's eight shipyards.

The Liberals are calling for federal co-operation to upgrade port access and create a transportation hub just west of Montreal that would connect major rail and road routes with the St. Lawrence Seaway.

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Mr. Couillard said he has had positive talks with members of the federal Conservative government on his plan.

"These aren't ideas that just came to us, there have been studies. And I know the federal government is very interested in developing commercial corridors," Mr. Couillard said.

Improvements to maritime transportation are vital with a new free trade agreement with Europe coming into effect and an upcoming expansion of the Panama Canal, Mr. Couillard said.

Meanwhile, one of Quebec's prominent student leaders, Martine Desjardins, has patched up her differences with Pauline Marois and will run for the Parti Québécois.

Ms. Desjardins, who spearheaded the strike against university tuition fee hikes in 2012, will run in the riding of Groulx, just north of Montreal. It was won by the Coalition Avenir Quebec in 2012, but the incumbent is not running again, leaving the field open for the election of a new member.

Ms. Marois will unveil another star candidate later Friday. Diane Lamarre, president of the Quebec Order of Pharmacists, will run in the Montreal south shore riding of Taillon, joining a tram of prominent female candidates the PQ has recruited for this election.

Ms. Desjardins was president of the Quebec Federation of University Students and a leading figure in the 2012 spring upheaval that witnessed thousands of university and college students taking to the streets to protest the former Liberal government.

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The social unrest marked by daily street demonstrations in Montreal and other cities contributed to the downfall of the Liberal regime in the 2012 election.

When the PQ took power, Ms. Marois held a special summit on post-secondary education that moved to peg university tuition fee hikes to the cost of living. At the time Ms. Desjardins criticized Ms. Marois and expressed concerns that fee hikes could undermine access to a university degree.

"My priority has always been to preserve accessibility to a post-secondary education…and that access was preserved following the summit on education," Ms. Desjardins said about her decision to run for the PQ.

Ms. Desjardins joins another former student leader, Léo Bureau-Blouin, who was head of the college student federation and was elected as a PQ member of the National Assembly in the 2012 election.

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