'It's the economy,' Couillard says of Quebec's priority

Quebec Premier downplays desire to have Quebec sign the Canadian Constitution

REUTERS/Mathieu Belanger

REUTERS/Mathieu Belanger

ST-TITE, Que. — Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard is now downplaying his desire to have Quebec sign the Canadian Constitution.

A day after suggesting he’d like the province to do so by 2017 for the 150th anniversary of Confederation, Couillard told reporters on Sunday that his top priority is the economy.

He said his comments on Saturday were misunderstood and that he wasn’t referring to the Constitution when he said Quebec’s ties with Canada should be “reaffirmed.”

“I mentioned that Quebec is one of the founding people of Canada and we should pick up on that theme for the 150th anniversary of Canada,” the premier told reporters in St. Tite, Que.

Couillard added the Constitution “is not an everyday priority for us. Our priority is the economy.”

Quebec is the only province not to endorse the patriation of the Constitution in 1982.

Previous Quebec premiers have ducked the issue, fearing it would rekindle sovereigntist fervour.

Denis Lebel, Harper’s political lieutenant for Quebec, said Sunday the Conservative government isn’t interested in a constitutional debate and prefers to focus on jobs.

Couillard’s comments alongside Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Saturday created a stir and prompted swift criticism from the pro-independence Parti Quebecois.

He made them at an event commemorating the 200th anniversary of the birth of Sir George-Etienne Cartier, a French-Canadian statesman viewed as one of the Fathers of Confederation.

This isn’t the first time Couillard, a staunch federalist, has expressed an interest in the issue.

He said during the election campaign this spring he wanted Quebec to sign the Constitution, but then backtracked after coming under attack from his political opponents.