It's time for unity, Sarkozy tells Quebec, Canada
French President Nicolas Sarkozy weighed in on the Canadian unity debate on Thursday, saying he'd like to help bring Quebec closer to the rest of Canada.
In a lavish declaration of love toward Canada, Sarkozy said he would like to bring together Canada and La Belle Province.
France has traditionally had a policy of "non-interference, but not indifference" toward the issue of Quebec sovereignty, though French leaders have occasionally strayed into awkward territory by appearing to endorse Quebec independence.
Sarkozy seemed intent on pushing the pendulum the other way, saying France doesn't want to ever have to choose between Canada and Quebec.
"You know we are very close to Quebec, but I'll tell you we also love Canada very much," Sarkozy told Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean as they paid homage to fallen Canadian soldiers from the Second World War.
"Our friendships and our loyalties do not oppose one another. We bring them together so each can understand what we have in common," Sarkozy added.
"We will turn toward the future so the future of Canada and France will be the future of two countries that are not only allies, but two friends."
PM hinted at Sarkozy's 'ni-ni' beliefs
The stage was set for Sarkozy's speech in March when former French prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin hinted at the president's opinions.
"The president is against 'ni-ni,'" Raffarin said, using French shorthand to refer to the government's longstanding policy of non-interference and non-indifference toward Quebec's independence.
"[Sarkozy] wants to get involved. He wants to participate."
In another strong signal toward Canada, Sarkozy made his declaration Thursday with Prime Minister François Fillon and several other top French officials at his side at the Canadian cemetery at Bény-Reviers in Normandy.
Sarkozy thanked Canada and the country's soldiers for making the "supreme sacrifice.
"And those who died here, no one asked them from which region [of Canada] they came," Sarkozy said.
"We knew from which country they came. We didn't even ask them which language they spoke."
Separatists were angered by Jean's words
Jean's visit to France has already angered many Quebec separatists.
She started her five-day voyage by suggesting the French should look beyond Quebec to the one million francophones in the rest of Canada who struggle to preserve their language and culture. This irritated many sovereigntists, including Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe, who ridiculed Jean.
In Quebec City, the main provincial separatist leader blasted Premier Jean Charest for letting the Governor General steal the show at French ceremonies marking the 400th anniversary of the Quebec capital.
Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois said former premier Robert Bourassa would be "rolling over in his grave" if he saw how lightly Charest was taking the event.
Charest said he wouldn't fall into the trap of politicizing the event.