Quebec's flag flap: back to the future?

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words ... of controversy. When the Parti Québécois removed the Canadian flag from its swearing-in ceremony on Monday, was it doing anything new?

Parti Québécois sticks to precedent in removing Canadian flag from swearing-in ceremony

Maybe it's because "flag flap" is so fun to say?

When the Parti Québécois removed the Canadian flag from the "Red Room" used for official ceremonies at Quebec's National Assembly, federalists raced to man the barricades once more against this latest assault.

"It's something that is unacceptable," said former federal Liberal cabinet minister and Clarity Act architect Stéphane Dion, on his way into the House of Commons Tuesday. "I think most Quebecers would like to see the Canadian flag and the Quebec flag."

Parti Québécois members are sworn in at Quebec's National Assembly on Monday. A Canadian flag was removed from the room before the ceremony. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

On the government benches, the reaction was more resigned.

Stephen Harper's Quebec lieutenant, Christian Paradis, for example, told reporters before question period his government would be staying away from "these old flag fights," putting its focus on economic growth and job creation.

Here's how the flags used to look, during more powerful days for Jean Charest's Liberals.

Former Quebec premier Jean Charest, shown with his cabinet after its 2010 swearing-in. (Clement Allard/Canadian Press)

But did the PQ do anything new when it rearranged the backdrop?

Consider this shot from the swearing in of former BQ Premier Bernard Landry's government in 2001:

Former premier Bernard Landry poses with his new cabinet in 2001. Former PQ minister-turned-CAQ Leader François Legault is just over Landry's shoulder in the middle of the second row. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Or what about this trip down memory lane, from Lucien Bouchard's first cabinet in 1996?

Then-Quebec premier Lucien Bouchard poses his cabinet after its swearing-in in 1996. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Indeed, Monday's flag-pulling could be more accurately described as a return to form for the PQ as it returns to government. And seasoned hands around the legislature in Quebec City point out that every time the PQ uses this room for a major event, the Canadian flag isn't invited.

So not really a fresh provocation. More like standard operating procedure.

"The news would be [if they wanted to] keep [the flag in the room]," Dion said. "They want to put Canada out of Quebec because they cannot put Quebec out of Canada."

Pauline Marois doesn't enjoy everything her predecessors had. Like a majority government, for example.

Speaking at his own swearing-in on Tuesday, Coalition Avenir Québec Leader François Legault (who can be seen, smiling, in the second row just above his old boss Landry in the photo above) seemed to suggest a difference between partisan events like Monday's PQ caucus swearing-in and some kind of wholesale change at the National Assembly, which would require the approval of a majority of its members.

"I think it's not a priority for Quebecers," Legault told reporters. "The last thing people would want to see at the National Assembly is a battle over flags."

And the Canadian flag? It was back as Legault's rookie CAQ caucus was sworn in, and remained when the Liberal Opposition took its oaths. Will it be there when the Marois cabinet is installed tomorrow?

Coalition Avenir Québec members are sworn in at the National Assembly Tuesday. The Canadian flag was returned to the backdrop alongside the provincial colours. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)