Quebec voters didn’t trigger a fresh drive to separate from Canada by returning to power the party that has brought two referendums on the issue, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said.
Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois won the Sept. 4 election with a minority of seats in the provincial legislature, ousting the Liberals led by Jean Charest after nine years in power.
“The people of Quebec voted for change,” Harper, 53, said during an interview in Vancouver yesterday with Bloomberg Television’s Erik Schatzker. “At the same time I think it was pretty clear they were denying any kind of a mandate to pursue the separation of Quebec or the division of the country.”
The Parti Quebecois won 54 of 125 electoral districts, meaning the PQ will need support from opposition members to pass laws. Quebec has twice voted in referendums against seceding from Canada, most recently in 1995. Harper’s comments, his first in public following the vote, came as he traveled to the summit of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders in Russia.
The separation issue has lost momentum in recent years, with an Aug. 31 CROP Inc. poll showing support for sovereignty at 29 percent, while 68 percent opposed it. At the federal level, Harper won his first majority government last year while the separatist Bloc Quebecois lost most of their seats.
“I feel quite confident” we aren’t headed for another crisis on national unity, Harper said, adding he has spoken to Marois since she won the election.
Harper said his view is that separation can’t be pursued at this time, and that is also “how the government in Quebec will be forced to interpret” the election results.
A Parti Quebecois government would call a referendum on independence “at the appropriate time,” according to the party’s electoral platform. Marois, 63, has refused to commit to holding a referendum in her first mandate, though she has said an independent Quebec is her ultimate goal.
The federal government will work with all provinces including Quebec on “the interests of the Canadian economy,” such as jobs and economic growth, Harper said. “That’s what I think the people of Quebec also want to see from their government.”
Marois has said she intends to cancel planned university tuition increases through a government decree, scrap a law that restricts the rights of demonstrators, and introduce new laws governing the use of French in the workplace.
“Quebeckers made their choice and we will respect this choice by governing with all elected members,” Marois told supporters in Montreal on election night. “I am certain we’ll be able to find the necessary compromises.”
Quebec bonds outperformed other provincial issues after the election results and the Canadian dollar was little changed just after the vote. Past PQ victories have triggered weakness in the currency.