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Harper Tories vs. the PQ: Round One

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The Harper government made its first high-profile appearances in Quebec since the election of the province's new pro-independence government on Friday and it came out swinging.

It held two events Friday targeting the Parti Quebecois.

One was a direct jab.

The federal Tories' Quebec lieutenant held a news conference in the heart of the asbestos belt, where he blamed the new provincial government for killing the once-mighty industry. The PQ plans to withdraw crucial funding from the industry, given ethical concerns about it and its links to cancer.

The other shot was more subtle.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper extolled 200 years of co-operation and shared history between English and French Canada.

While the events differed greatly in tone and in substance, there was a common theme: the PQ might plan to pick fights with the federal government but, if the Harper government has its way, it won't get to set all the battle conditions.

Harper sent that message in, of all places, a battlefield.

In his first official visit to Quebec following the election of the PQ, Harper went to a historical site to drive home the point that English and French Canadians share a deep, longstanding bond.

Harper visited an island near the U.S. border to announce a new military tribute in honour of the War of 1812, in a pomp-laden event replete with a military inspection and brass band.

Harper went to Fort Lennox, located on an island near the U.S. border, and lauded military regiments that successfully defended Canada in the War of 1812. He announced that battle honours will be awarded to regiments with ties to units that won decisive battles in the war.

He described a night-time attack launched against Canadian positions along the nearby Lacolle River in November 1812. It involved an invasion force of some 5,000 American military regulars. Harper said Canada's victory was "a pivotal point in the development of our great country."

"During this war French, English and aboriginal people took up arms and rallied around a common objective: resisting the American invasion," Harper said.

"These bonds created by our ancestors are at the origin of a truly pan-Canadian identity that made possible our Confederation, and led to a country of great diversity with two official languages."

When the prime minister was asked about the PQ at a news conference later, he added: "I'm here not because of the history of the past two weeks — but because of the past 200 years."

Among the regiments being recognized are the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, the Queen's York Rangers, the Royal Canadian Regiment, the Canadian Grenadier Guards and the Royal 22nd Regiment.

Friday's event was laden with pomp. A military band played and Harper inspected an honour guard made up of Royal 22nd members — better known as "Van Doos" — in full dress.

Later Friday, in a different part of the province, a glum-looking industry minister accused the new Quebec government of causing economic hardship.

Christian Paradis, the Tories' Quebec lieutenant, made the accusation in his home region which is the country's last remaining hub of asbestos production.

Paradis announced that the Government of Canada will stop opposing efforts at the United Nations to have asbestos labelled as a hazardous substance.

He cast the move as inevitable following a PQ election promise.

The PQ has said it will cancel a $58 million loan, confirmed just a few months ago by the previous Liberal provincial government. The cash was aimed at reviving what would be the country's only asbestos operation in Asbestos, a 90-minute drive from Thetford Mines.

Standing next to Paradis at the event was the local mayor.

"First off I'd like to remind you that Pauline Marois, the premier-designate of Quebec, has clearly stated her intention to forbid chrysotile exploitation in Quebec," Paradis said.

"Obviously that decision will have a negative impact on the prosperity of our regions...

"In the meantime hundreds of workers in our region are without jobs, are living in uncertainty and hoping the mine will reopen... Madame Marois has clearly made her decision. So our government has made a decision that it's now time to look after our communities, workers and families."

The PQ declined to comment Friday.

The party is busy drawing up its cabinet and preparing the transition to power.

The PQ takes office, with a minority government, next Wednesday.

Despite its minority status, the PQ has hinted that it still plans to pick fights with Ottawa in an effort to weaken ties between Quebec and the rest of Canada and advance toward its goal of independence.

It will surely seek to create its own narrative.

The spot Harper visited, for instance, paints a complex historical portrait. And not everyone will draw the same lessons.

Now a Parks Canada historical site, Fort Lennox was built after 1812 in reaction to a U.S. fort erected several kilometres to the south.

The site was used, several decades later, as a British base to crush the insurrection of 1837-38 where rebels demanded that the Crown allow responsible government in Canada.

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