Legault says Quebec should get 'angrier' with feds

The leader of Quebec's newest political party says it's time for his province to get angrier in defending its positions in Ottawa, especially after a string of controversial federal moves.

New Quebec party leader urging Charest government to play hardball with Ottawa

Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) Leader Francois Legault, seen here with party co-founder Charles Sirois on November 14, thinks the Charest government should play more hardball with Ottawa. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

The leader of a new Quebec political party says it's time for his province to get angrier in defending its positions in Ottawa -- especially after a recent string of controversial federal moves.

Former Parti Quebecois cabinet minister Francois Legault is the head of the Coalition For Quebec's Future, a weeks-old party that led opinion polls months before it officially existed.

At the opening Monday of his party's new Montreal office, Legault urged Premier Jean Charest and his cabinet ministers to take more trips to Ottawa to fight the Harper government on key concerns for Quebecers.

He noted how the values of most Quebecers clash with the Conservative agenda on issues such as the appointment of unilingual anglophones to senior positions, the omnibus crime bill and the federal gun registry.

"We need to have a government that's a little bit more active, a little bit angrier with these decisions with the federal government," said Legault.

"Mr. Charest has a responsibility as a premier, who represents the interests of Quebecers, to make Ottawa understand our point of view."

Quebec's justice minister has, in fact, made two trips to Ottawa in recent weeks to denounce the crime Bill C-10 and was scathing in his criticism of the Harper government.

In his latest trip, Jean-Marc Fournier said he couldn't recognize the Government of Canada anymore and felt like the Harper Tories were instead governing for the old Reform party. Those protestations have had little sway on the federal Conservatives.

But up until now, Legault said Charest has failed to represent the opinions of Quebecers on Parliament Hill, and relations between the province and Ottawa have suffered in recent years as a result.

"(Charest) has to think of other strategies to be able to show that the population truly isn't satisfied with positions taken by the Harper government," said Legault, a former high-profile member of the sovereigntist PQ.

This isn't the first time Legault has advocated playing hardball with Ottawa.

While he was Quebec's health minister in 2002, he threatened to refuse $1.6 billion in federal cash if it meant the province would have to adopt pan-Canadian standards for its health system. The province ultimately accepted the money.

Legault, who at one time was a passionate, vocal sovereigntist, now says Quebec must put the independence debate on ice for at least a decade. The province's focus, he argues, should be building its economy.

His call for old foes of the decades-old sovereignty debate to work together has grabbed the attention of Quebecers looking for something new. Recent polls have suggested his party was running ahead of the governing Liberals and the PQ.

But along with the strong words aimed at Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government Monday, Legault also expressed hope for a better working relationship with Ottawa.

The former airline executive, whose party sits right of centre on economic issues, wants to see a reinvigorated Quebec economy cut its dependence on federal equalization payments.

Legault even praised some long-term cost-cutting measures promised by the federal Conservatives.

"I think the fact that Mr. Harper wants to have a small government in Ottawa, that he wants to reduce taxes -- that's good for the provinces, including Quebec."