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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to media during a press conference at Bishop's University Wednesday, January 18, 2017 in Sherbrooke, Quebec.

Ryan Remiorz/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faced headwinds as his cross-country tour took him into Quebec, where he fended off calls to appoint a Liberal lieutenant to give the province more influence in Ottawa.

Mr. Trudeau is steadfast in his refusal to appoint regional ministers, but his closest advisers are well aware of the calls for a prominent Liberal to defend Quebec's interests on files like Bombardier's request for federal aid.

Liberal officials point out they will have a golden opportunity to bring in a new voice when former minister Stéphane Dion quits his seat in the Liberal stronghold of St-Laurent, in the west end of Montreal. Sources said the Prime Minister's Office has identified a small number of high-profile potential recruits, but would-be candidates have been told to remain on the sidelines until Mr. Dion announces his retirement.

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In the meantime, the Liberals are trying to boost the profile of François-Philippe Champagne, the rookie Liberal MP from Shawinigan, Que., who was appointed International Trade Minister in last week's cabinet shuffle.

It was quickly noted at the time that Mr. Champagne received a diminished portfolio, as the critical file of Canada-U.S. relations went to new Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.

However, Liberal officials argued this week that Mr. Champagne has a more important say on economic issues in cabinet than Mr. Dion ever had, and that the 46-year-old has the trust of Finance Minister Bill Morneau, having spent a year as his parliamentary secretary.

After stops in Ontario and Atlantic Canada, Mr. Trudeau's cross-country tour took him to the Eastern Townships in Quebec this week. At a news conference in Sherbrooke, Mr. Trudeau defended his Quebec team, stating it is highly active behind the scenes to push important issues on his government's agenda.

"I'm extremely proud of the importance of Quebec in the federal government. It had been a long time since we had ministers from Quebec of this quality … and the 40 MPs from Quebec in the Liberal caucus are strong voices for Quebec," Mr. Trudeau said.

Still, the Bombardier file comes back to haunt Mr. Trudeau at nearly every stop in Quebec, given his oft-repeated promise to help the struggling aerospace giant. A common attack in Quebec is that the Liberals would have solved the issue more quickly if Bombardier had been based in Ontario.

Federal officials said the fact the Quebec government already gave $1-billion to Bombardier in 2015 has provided the federal government with additional time to strike a better deal with the company. In Sherbrooke, Mr. Trudeau said he remains resolved to find a way to "invest in our aerospace industry."

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"Bombardier is a beacon for Canadian industry, not just in Quebec, and we are continuing to work with the company to see how we can support them," he said.

Another challenge facing the Trudeau government is the looming rise of protectionism in the province, as the opposition Parti Québécois is stealing a page from Donald Trump's playbook.

In a speech over the weekend, PQ Leader Jean-François Lisée said Quebec needs to pull out all the stops to prevent local companies from being sold to foreign interests. He added the province could adopt a "Buy Québécois Act" in the same vein as "Buy American" provisions in the United States.

"Economic nationalism has a home in Quebec, and it's the Parti Québécois," Mr. Lisée said.

Still, Mr. Trudeau said he will continue to push for free trade as the best way to fuel economic growth.

"When Bombardier successfully signs contracts with Paris for new trains, when Canadian companies get great contracts internationally, it's good for Canadian jobs and the growth of our economy, and we're going to continue to defend the benefits of trade and openness to Canadians," Mr. Trudeau said.

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At his news conference, Mr. Trudeau initially defended his decision to answer questions in English at town hall meetings in Ontario and in French at a similar event in Quebec. Under further questioning, he agreed he should have answered questions in both languages.

"The next time around, I will bring more bilingualism wherever I am in the country," he said.

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