Harper, Charest denounce Royal over comments about Quebec

The prime minister and Quebec's premier rebuked France's presidential candidate, Segolene Royal, after she appeared to offer sympathy for the idea of Quebec sovereignty.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Quebec Premier Jean Charest rebuked France's presidential candidate Segolene Royal after she appeared to offer sympathy for the idea of Quebec sovereignty.

"Experience teaches that it is highly inappropriate for a foreign leader to interfere in the democratic affairs of another country," Harper saidin a statement on Monday.

Royal, theleader of the Socialist party in France, was asked by a Canadian reporter about Quebec sovereignty after a brief meeting she had with Parti Québécois Leader André Boisclair in Paris.

"I'm in favour of it," she said in French."Liberty and sovereignty for Quebec reflect our shared common values."

Harperresponded thatCanada is lookingforward to "marking the 400th anniversary of the founding of Canada at Quebec City with the next president of France.

But he added: "We expect in turn that the next president will display an understanding of our shared history, and the respect for Canada and Canadians that such an important partnership requires."

In 1967, then-French president Charles de Gaulle, who was in Montreal for Expo '67 and Canada's Centennial, caused apoliticalstorm when heended a speech from the balcony of Montreal's city hall with "Vive le Quebec libre (Long live free Quebec)."

Since then, French politicians have been careful to say that while they are not indifferent to Canada's unity debate, they will not interfere.

Royal has never toured Quebec: Charest

Charest also denounced Royal's comments,adding that he invited her to visit Quebec after she was elected leader of the Socialist party, but she refused.

He said that as far as he knows,Royal has never visited the province.

"And furthermore, what I also know is that the future of Quebec will be decided by Quebecers.No one else."

Boisclair said the French understand his message of sovereignty and are sympathetic.

"I think Quebecers will interpret Mrs. Royal's remarks for themselves," he said. "It would be improper of me to do so but what people have seen is that France, in all circumstances, will be at Quebec's side."

Federal Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion, who was visiting Quebec City, said Royal's comments hurt her credibility.

"She does not understand," he said. "You do not interfere in the affairs of a friendly country, you do not wish for the dismantling of a friendly country. Canada does not wish for the dismantling of France and France certainly does not wish for the dismantling of Canada."

With files from the Canadian Press