On Campus

Marois to cautiously push agenda

Premier-designate will cancel tuition hikes by cabinet decree

Premier-designate Pauline Marois says she will do her best to push ahead the more contentious parts of her campaign platform despite her minority-government status.

Marois, whose Parti Quebecois won 54 of the province’s 125 ridings on Tuesday, conceded the difficulty of the task ahead given that the Liberals have 50 members and Francois Legault’s Coalition party has 19.

In an indication of her political limitations, Marois never once referred to an independence referendum during her post-election news conference and no reporter bothered asking about one.

She said she will try to make progress on the more divisive parts of her platform — those dealing with language, culture and federal-provincial relations — but will need to seek consensus from the other parties.

“I hoped for a majority but the people of Quebec decided otherwise,” Marois told a news conference Wednesday.

“The time for bipartisanship is back and we must learn to work within this context and reality.”

That doesn’t mean she will abandon her agenda.

Marois promised to cancel planned tuition hikes by cabinet decree, then ask the legislature to rescind the Charest Liberals’ controversial anti-protest law Bill 78.

She will attempt to introduce a language law — a “new Bill 101” — to stop a perceived decline in French around the Montreal and Gatineau areas, which she said remains “at the heart of our concerns.” She noted that she will need to consult with other parties to see what measures they might support.

It will be the same on federal-provincial issues.

In the campaign, the PQ had adopted tough talk and vowed to pick fights with Ottawa in seeking a transfer of power in numerous areas, like Employment Insurance. It explained that the long-term plan was to use any federal refusal as an argument for independence.

Marois says she still plans to push the Harper Tories on multiple fronts. Her battles will be more carefully chosen, however.

She said she will pore through past statements in the national assembly and find other party positions on federal issues that might resemble her own.

She said the federalist outgoing premier, Jean Charest, had made 15 requests to Ottawa on things ranging from the gun registry to criminal penalties to securities regulation. She noted that Charest had even mused about extending language laws to federally regulated companies during the campaign, before backtracking.

Marois also noted that the Coalition party’s Francois Legault had also urged a tougher federal stance on the environment.

These preoccupations will become the PQ government’s preoccupations, she said.

“We can … make demands that are supported unanimously by the national assembly,” she said. ”Many, many proposals which I will be implementing are accepted by the other parties.”

She also cited other elements of her platform like adding daycare spaces, help for the elderly, the economy and keeping head offices in Quebec.

Marois, who will announce her cabinet within two weeks, also confirmed she had a ”cordial” conversation with Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Wednesday morning.

Earlier, the PMO said in a statement that Harper spoke with Marois about the importance for their two governments to work together.

Harper said it is important to foster stability, economic growth and job creation.

That overture was attached to a warning that the federal government has no intention of getting bogged down in constitutional quarrels.

“The prime minister added that in the interest of both Quebec and Canada, he plans to join forces with the Quebec government to implement measures aimed at growing the Quebec economy, with each remaining within its respective jurisdictional boundaries,” the statement said.

Marois’ minority status performance could severely limit her ability to pursue independence.

In fact, the PQ is in virgin territory. The last four times it won a provincial election — 1976, 1981, 1994 and 1998 — it did so by getting a majority. As a result, it has never needed to seek the support of other parties to table a referendum question, an inaugural speech or any other confidence measure.

Marois will also have to walk a fine line that has tripped up several of her predecessors: convincing hardline sovereigntists she’s serious about achieving independence, while at the same time being mindful of opinion polls that steadfastly suggest most Quebecers don’t want a referendum.

In fact, the R word didn’t even get a mention at the Marois news conference Wednesday.

Liberal Leader Bob Rae said Tuesday’s results do not constitute a mandate for the separatist agenda.

”You could not possibly read that into the result,” Rae said at a Liberal caucus meeting in Montebello, Que. ”So it is a reality that everyone will have to recognize.”

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.