Tory cabinet minister quits post over motion

Tory MP Michael Chong quit his cabinet post Monday over the government motion that recognizes the Québécois as a nation within a united Canada.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's motion on Québécois as a nation has cost him a cabinet minister.

Michael Chong, who was intergovernmental affairs minister,quit his post Monday afternoon because of the motion, which later passed in Parliament and recognized the Québécois as a nation inside a united Canada by a 266-16 margin.

Chong, who was also minister for sport and represents the riding of Wellington-Halton Hills in Ontario, said: "To me, recognizing Quebecers as a nation, even inside a united Canada, implies the recognition of ethnicity, and I cannot support that."

"I do not believe in an ethnic nationalism. I believe in a civic nationalism."

Chong repeated his support for the prime minister and Conservative policies on crime, the economy and the environment and said Harper was "very gracious" in accepting his resignation after talking it over.

But Chong, who was responsible for federal-provincial relations, was left out of the loop when Harper was deciding on the wording of the motion. Instead, the prime minister consulted with former intergovernmental affairs minister Stéphan Dion.

Chong said he will stay on as a member of Parliament.

Ontario MP Peter Van Loan was later sworn in as the new minister of intergovernmental affairs, and minister of sport.

'Cabinet solidarity'

Senator Marjorie LeBreton and Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon met reporters to try to explain the government's reasoning for cabinet solidarity on the issue.

"On matters of great importance to the country, such as the unity of the country, as this was, I think it's most important that there be cabinet solidarity," LeBreton said.

But reporters pressed LeBreton and Cannon to clear up confusion on the motion itself, asking why it refers to the Québécois even in its English version and why not Quebecers.

A reporter from the Montreal Gazette, the largest English newspaper in Quebec, wanted to know whether her readers were Québécois too.

"Does it include every resident of Quebec regardless of which boat their ancestors came over on?" she asked.

Cannon replied: "No, it doesn't. It doesn't. Let's be clear on this."

Cannon was then asked to explain to anglo Montrealers why they are not Québécois, but Cannon insisted he didn't say that.

With files from the Canadian Press