Philippe Couillard says Quebec-Scotland vote comparisons 'risky'

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard says Scotland's referendum was an example of the same kind of "healthy" tension that exists in Quebec's democracy, but the comparisons stop there, as federal politicians from John Baird to Stéphane Dion welcomed the defeat of Scottish independence.

Quebec premier tells PQ to 'come home and work on real issues'

RAW: Philippe Couillard reacts to Scottish result

8 years ago
Duration 4:08
Quebec's premier told reporters Friday that if the Scots had what Quebecers have in Canada, they would probably be quite happy.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard says Scotland's referendum was an example of the same kind of "healthy" tension that exists in Quebec's democracy, but the comparisons stop there, as federal politicians from John Baird to Stéphane Dion welcomed the defeat of Scottish independence.

"It is an example of a healthy state of tension in sub-national states in countries like U.K. or Canada between a strong feeling of identity, which I think Scots and Quebecers have in common, and at the same time the desire to belong to a larger political organization, the U.K. or Canada," Couillard said Friday.

"All comparisons after that are risky because we have far more capacity to act, far more competencies and jurisdictions than Scotland has within U.K., and we have I think chosen in Canada — wisely — the most modern way to live together, which is federalism," the premier said.

Couillard, who leads Quebec's federalist Liberal Party and won a convincing majority in Quebec's most recent election last April, said the debate Scotland's referendum had prompted among his Parti Québécois opponents was out of touch.

If the Scots had what we have, Quebecers within Canada, they probably would be quite happy.—Philippe Couillard

"It's a pure discussion on theoretical ambitions and 'how are we going to make a referendum?' — What about jobs? What about the economy? What about public finances? What about the kind of society we want to live in? I'm not hearing anything about that," Couillard said, adding that all the referendum talk was inspiring was infighting among various factions of Quebec's sovereignty movement.

"It's time for them to come home and work on real issues," Couillard said of PQ officials who had gone to Scotland hopeful of a result that would boost their political fortunes.

Scotland voted in 'a different context'

Quebec's premier didn't see in Scotland's debate a strong parallel to the national question in Quebec.

"The [Scottish] campaign was not centred around identity or exclusion of this or that category of person from who is a Scot, who is not a Scot, as we unfortunately heard here in Quebec. It was mainly about fiscal and economic issues, which is quite a different context than what we went through, in the recent months in particular," Couillard said.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard told reporters Friday that it was time for his Parti Québécois opponents to come home and focus on real issues, following the defeat of the nationalist side in Thursday's Scottish independence referendum. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

In French, he talked about how important it was for Quebec to be a strong player at the federal table in Canada and his efforts since his election to build bridges with the rest of Canada.

He also reiterated his earlier statements that he'd like to pursue a way for Quebec to sign onto Canada's Constitution.

Couillard said he was cautious about commenting in a way that would appear to be interfering in the politics of another country.

"If the Scots had what we have, Quebecers within Canada, they probably would be quite happy," Couillard said.

But that doesn't mean that independence wouldn't crop up again in the politics of either country.

"The idea never dies," the premier said. "The question is not the existence or non-existence of the idea, but its capacity to become a strong political movement, and this is what is to be observed in the coming years, both in Canada and elsewhere too."

"My plan is that there will not be another referendum in Quebec. That's it. That's not my movie. That's the PQ's movie, and I won't play in their movie," Couillard said.

Baird praises 'open and democratic' process

Earlier Friday, the Harper government welcomed the result of Scotland's independence vote, praising voters' decision not to leave the United Kingdom.

In a statement, Baird also praised the governments of the U.K. and Scotland for the "open and democratic way in which two very different but sincere views" were handled in the referendum.

Before question period on Parliament Hill Friday, Baird's parliamentary secretary Deepak Obhrai called the result "fantastic" and said a Yes vote would have sent a wrong message and weakened the United Kingdom and its influence in world affairs.

Bloc Québécois Leader Mario Beaulieu also issued a statement in French, noting that over the course of a strong campaign by the Yes side, support for independence gained 15 percentage points, after starting at only 30 per cent approval.

"We've been there and it is with great compassion and fraternity that the Bloc Québécois sees the results," Beaulieu's statement said.

"I know the feelings of the militants on the Yes side are probably mixed today. But they can hold their heads high in this referendum campaign in the greatest respect for democracy. They should certainly not give up and remain vigilant regarding the promises made ​​at the last minute by the Westminster government," Beaulieu said.

During the campaign, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said breaking up the United Kingdom wouldn't serve the greater global interest, nor the interest of ordinary people throughout the country.

"We like to think in Canada that our country is a strong and positive force in the world," he said. "And we think from the Canadian perspective that a strong and United Kingdom is an overwhelmingly positive force in the world."

Baird also wrote on Twitter earlier this month that "as a Canadian with Scottish roots I would vote No. The United Kingdom is an amazing country [and] would be weaker divided."

Former Liberal leader and cabinet minister Dion, who led the federal government's response to the 1995 Quebec referendum and championed Canada's Clarity Act, tweeted early Friday "Best of luck to our Scottish and British friends, who chose to remain together."

With files from CBC News


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