Premier Couillard wants Quebec to sign Constitution by 2017

QUEBEC – Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard took advantage of a public appearance with Prime Minister Stephen Harper to repeat his wish for the province to sign the Constitution.

Couillard said he wants Quebec to sign on by 2017, the 150th anniversary of Confederation.

The premier made the comments Saturday during a Quebec City speech, 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.

Cartier’s vision for a united Canada that incorporates “a strong Quebec identity” could serve as an inspiration in future talks, Couillard said.

The Quebec premier made a similar commitment to the Constitution at the beginning of this spring’s provincial election campaign, but he then shied away from the idea after coming under heavy criticism from the Parti Quebecois.

Later in the campaign he said job creation would be the priority for a Quebec Liberal government and made it clear a constitutional initiative would have to come from English Canada.

Previous Quebec premiers have ducked the Constitution issue, especially since the failures of the Meech Lake accord in the 1980s and the Charlottetown agreement a few years later rekindled sovereigntist fervour to bring the Yes side within a whisker of winning the 1995 referendum.

Harper did not take questions from reporters, but a spokesman for the prime minister said the government has “no intention of re-opening the Constitution.”

“Our government will continue to practice a federalism that respects Quebec and provincial jurisdiction,” Jason MacDonald said in an email.

In his own speech, Harper hailed Cartier as “one of the great architects of modern-day Canada,” who promoted inclusiveness and respect across the country.

A powerful Quebec politician and lawyer, Cartier is seen as a key player in the movement towards the 1864 Quebec Conference and Confederation itself.

Harper noted that Cartier fought for provincial rights within the federation, though he quickly added there are limits in a united Canada.

“Does it mean that all the provinces and territories will get everything they want all the time? Of course not,” he said.