In its battle against the Maple Leaf, PQ may be headed for defeat

QUEBEC – An attempt to remove the Canadian flag from the Quebec legislature appears poised for defeat in an upcoming vote laden with emotional symbolism.

The provincial assembly has decided that a vote next week will settle an unprecedented situation — one where a minority Parti Quebecois government, one that does not control of the legislature, tries to have the flag removed.

And the PQ may not have the numbers to take down the Maple Leaf.

The pro-Canadian official Opposition, the Liberals, will vote against the request. And it appears that the constitutionally neutral Coalition party is also lined up against the government.

Coalition Leader Francois Legault says that, because his party an alliance of federalists and separatists, it favours the status quo and will vote against the PQ request.

“Why change the balance?” Legault said Wednesday. “We have a balance and there’s a consensus in favour of it within the Coalition.”

The two big opposition parties have 69 seats, combined. They need 63 votes to have a majority in the legislature and win next week’s vote — meaning the PQ attempt would fail unless more than one-third of the Coalition’s 19 MNAs sided with it.

The issue is playing out under a unique political backdrop: a new PQ government has been elected and promises to work toward independence, while polls suggest its cause is relatively unpopular with barely half the support it had in its early 1990s heyday.

The Maple Leaf has, in the past, only had a place in the legislature building when the Liberals were in power. It was added to the committee chamber by Robert Bourassa’s Liberals in the 1980s and ’90s, and again by Jean Charest’s government in 2003.

As it has in the past, the PQ moved to take it down after it won the Sept. 4 election. But the attempt prompted a rare backlash and, with only a minority status, the PQ was forced by the legislature Speaker to hold a vote to decide the issue.

The vote is scheduled for next Wednesday.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper declined to wade into the dispute when asked about it last week during a trip to Quebec City.

Harper stuck to a familiar message, one pitting the PQ’s independence cause as out of touch with the priorities of Quebecers.

“What can I say?” Harper replied, drawing chuckles from an audience.

“What I can say is our priority, for the people of Quebec and for the rest of Canada, is the economy. I think that’s the real priority of Quebecers — not old quarrels. I have no intention of participating in those old debates.”