OTTAWA – Prime Minister Stephen Harper will come face-to-face this week with Pauline Marois for the first time since she was elected premier of Quebec, but instead of a clashing of swords there might be a meeting of the minds.
The two leaders will both be travelling to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) for the Francophonie Summit, and so far their governments seem to agree on what they hope to accomplish — and are speaking pleasantly about each other to boot.
Canada, Quebec and New Brunswick are full member governments of the Francophonie, a concession agreed to by former prime minister Brian Mulroney in the 1980s.
“I fully expect as members, subscribing to the values and ideals of the Francophonie, that Canada and New Brunswick and Quebec of course will all sing from the same songsheet, which is to promote the values and the ways that we can see progress accomplished,” Bernard Valcourt, Canada’s minister of state for the Francophonie, said in an interview.
Valcourt’s sentiments are markedly different than the first pointed statements the Harper government made about the election of separatist Marois and the revisiting of “old constitutional battles.”
Both Valcourt and Jean-Francois Lisee, Quebec’s international relations minister, see the troubles in the DRC as one of the major issues of the summit.
The country’s 2011 presidential elections were marred by irregularities and crackdowns on opponents.
Lisee said opposition and civil society groups in the country have supported holding the summit as a way to put pressure on the government of Joseph Kabila. The country has provincial and local elections scheduled for 2013.
“We won’t go there to legitimize an election tainted with irregularities, we’re going with a message of our determination to support the forces of democracy in the DRC for the next elections,” Lisee told The Canadian Press.
“That’s what we want the Congolese population to take from our presence, that we’ve come to help them rediscover democracy, not to lend credibility to past elections.”
Valcourt echoed the view that the summit is an opportunity to raise human rights issues. He said he intends to meet with opposition figures, as he did during a visit in June.
“The first point that I’m sure Canada is going to make since we’re going to be in the DRC is to encourage and also to loudly call for actions by the DRC to improve the situation in terms of democratization, in terms of the respect for human rights and also the rule of law…,” said Valcourt.
Canada and Quebec also intend to support a declaration at the summit to help ban so-called blood mining, where products are illegally extracted and used to fund conflicts.
Lisee said that Marois will likely use her opening speech to talk about women’s equality — she being the only female leader expected to attend. And he said she’ll emphasize the protection of the French language and Quebec’s commitment to green energy.
He said the two governments are not on the same “wavelength” on a number of issues, but Lisee also noted he had good relations with Valcourt.
“I’m not expecting any stunts from the federal government, and if the federal government puts forward its position on greenhouse gases or on Israel or on something else…we’ll accept it for what it is,” said Lisee.
“We’ll expect to be accepted for what we are too.”
The Francophonie summit takes place between October 12-14.