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Marois says her first meeting with Harper was 'excellent,' 'even almost warm'

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KINSHASA, Congo - Their future meetings risk being a lot frostier, but Quebec Premier Pauline Marois said her first encounter with Stephen Harper was ''excellent.''

''Very positive, very cordial, I'd say even almost warm,'' was how Marois described her 30-minute meeting with the prime minister on Saturday.

The venue for the get-together was neither Ottawa nor Quebec City but rather Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo where the two are attending this weekend's summit of la Francophonie.

Marois suggested that agreements will be possible between her sovereigntist government and Ottawa despite their widely divergent political views.

The comments represent a departure from the strong rhetoric of the recent provincial election campaign, when Marois' sovereigntist Parti Quebecois made it clear it would seek more powers from Ottawa — and then claim federalism didn't work if it didn't get them.

The PQ has been singing a more conciliatory tune, though, since taking power with a minority government. Earlier this week, the PQ's intergovernmental affairs minister promised Quebec would "act in good faith" and "with a lot of pragmatism" when dealing with the federal government.

In Kinshasa, the two leaders discussed various issues including Old Harry, asbestos and the free-trade deal between Canada and Europe.

Old Harry is an area in the northeastern part of the Gulf of St. Lawrence that is estimated to hold up to two billion barrels of recoverable oil — twice the size of Hibernia, east of St. John's.

The hydrocarbon field has been the source of a heated feud between Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador for years.

As for asbestos, the PQ government has scrapped plans to revive the province's last mine and the topic became a source of division between the two governments recently when federal Industry Minister Christian Paradis blamed the PQ for killing the industry.

Tougher issues such as Quebec's desire to repatriate employment insurance were not on the agenda and will have to wait another day.

''It was an excellent meeting,'' said Marois, whose PQ was elected on Sept. 4.

''I offered Mr. Harper Quebec's entire co-operation so that Quebecers are well-served.

''We agreed that even though he is federalist and I am sovereigntist, that it is possible to reach agreements that respect our jurisdiction.

''I got the impression that Mr. Harper is ready to hear Quebec's point of view.''

Marois made it clear, however, that her government will push for the repatration of more powers and money in areas such as culture.

Harper did not speak to reporters after the meeting and left the hotel by a back door.

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