Quebec Liberal Leader Jean Charest is urging Canadians not to let the political power struggle in Ottawa descend into anti-sovereigntist ranting and Quebec-bashing.
'I live in a society in which people can be sovereigntists or federalists, but they respect each other. The same thing should prevail in the federal Parliament.' —Quebec Liberal Leader Jean Charest
Charest condemned anti-separatist rhetoric aimed at Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe, who some say should not have as much sway as he's been granted under the newly formed coalition with the Liberals and NDP.
"Every person elected to the House of Commons, every member of Parliament of every party is a legitimate political party," Charest said late Wednesday in an impromptu news conference.
"I live in a society in which people can be sovereigntists or federalists, but they respect each other. The same thing should prevail in the federal Parliament."
With more than 1.4 million voters supporting the party, the Bloc has earned its political legitimacy, Charest insisted.
"Some people seem to have fallen into the trap of that kind of talk. I think that all of us would be best served if we focus on the economy," the Liberal leader said.
Having a group of deputies opposed to the ruling government in federal Parliament isn't only legitimate, but has historical precedent, Charest noted.
"In 1867, all elected deputies from Nova Scotia were sent, without exception, to Ottawa to separate the province," he said.
Charest reminded reporters that he is willing to work with the federal government regardless of who is in charge, and that he needs a strong majority to lead Quebec.
"As Quebec premier, it's very important to not subsume our interests to a federal political party. I've always defended this liberty we've had in Quebec, and the freedom we've had to keep our hands free," he said.
"It's not about dividing the country, and trying to draw up the country, and draw lines and divisions between the country. We should respect that. And that's one of the strengths of Quebec in Canada. I mean, we're at the very core of what our country and society is about, and what Quebec is about," he said.
Charest took a shot at his opponent, Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois, who he accused of trying to capitalize on the federal political showdown to stir up the embers of sovereignty at home.
"Madame Marois said the only solution for Quebec is to get out of the country and seek sovereignty. Madame Marois seems pleased at the turn of these worrisome events. She's always fixated by the same obsessions."
Events will bolster sovereignty, but Marois isn't celebrating
Marois says she hopes the parliamentary crisis in Ottawa will breathe new life into the sovereignty movement but isn't necessarily pleased about the crisis.
Harper's characterization of the "separatists" will likely end up galvanizing forces within the movement, the PQ leader predicted Thursday morning.
"The impact of this crisis is to wake up sovereigntists who were lying dormant," Marois said in French.
"I say good, but we didn't provoke it," because Harper is the author of his own demise, she said.
Marois insisted this isn't a time to rejoice, even if the crisis in Ottawa eventually serves her party's goals.
"I am not happy because actually, with the tug-of-war in Ottawa, decisions aren't being made that could help Quebec economically."
Quebecers are profoundly unhappy with how the Bloc is being treated, she said.