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Parti Quebecois takes an early swing at Trudeau, misses target, offers him beer

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QUEBEC - The Parti Quebecois couldn't wait to confront its newest nemesis — Justin Trudeau, the freshly appointed federal Liberal leader and first-born son of traditional foe Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

Things did not go as planned.

By the end of the day, in fact, they were offering to buy Trudeau a beer. That invitation to quaff suds was the final twist in a bizarre string of events Thursday during Trudeau's first visit to meet with Quebec politicians since winning the leadership.

It all began with a provincial cabinet minister delivering a lengthy denunciation at a news conference. The source of his frustration: An alleged scheduling slight.

Jean-Francois Lisee told the assembled reporters that Trudeau was behaving like some "young prince" because he had, supposedly, demanded to meet the leaders of all parties at the same time.

However, it turned out that information was wrong. People from various quarters, including the Quebec premier's office, disputed the basis for the cabinet minister's attack.

Lisee had been expressing disbelief that Trudeau would expect to meet the leaders of Quebec's three biggest parties at one single gathering.

"He's not even the leader of the official Opposition in Ottawa — he's the leader of the second opposition party — and he thinks he can meet the three party leaders at the same time?" Lisee told a morning news scrum.

"Like some young prince, descending from Ottawa, to meet those who could become his subjects.

"He wanted the three party leaders of Quebec to organize their schedules to meet him at the same time. That gives you an idea of the gap between the reality of the Quebecois nation and its institutions, its political parties, and the incomprehension of the new Liberal leader of Quebec democracy."

Almost immediately, that version of events was disputed. Not only by Trudeau's office, and by Quebec's opposition parties, but also by Lisee's own boss.

"It was a communication error. And that error was transmitted to Mr. Lisee and Mr. Lisee 'scrummed' on bad information," said a spokesman for PQ Premier Pauline Marois. "The request was to meet the three leaders — but individually."

Lisee wound up sounding a more conciliatory note.

"Well, it seems Justin and I were victims of a communication error between his office and that of my PM. It happens," Lisee tweeted later. "I'm offering to buy him a beer in Montreal. I'll take a Tremblay (beer) but would be prepared to buy him a (Molson) Canadian... Or vice-versa."

Trudeau did meet Thursday with the leaders of Quebec's two biggest oppostion parties, the Liberals and the Coalition for Quebec's Future.

He did not see Marois; a spokeswoman for the premier said Marois wasn't available Thursday, but that she would welcome suggestions for a future meeting date.

Earlier Lisee had said that, while scheduling was an issue, Marois wouldn't have accepted to meet anyway because of the conditions supposedly suggested by Trudeau.

He also cited the Liberal leader's stated plan Thursday to discuss issues raised during his leadership campaign — such as health care and education.

Lisee said that request, alone, spoke volumes.

"It's a vision of Canada — the idea that provinces are vassals," said Lisee, the minister responsible for international relations.

"He said he wanted to deal with education and health care. Is he not aware that under the Constitution these are provincial responsibilities?"

Trudeau later held a scrum after meeting separately with Couillard and Legault. Needless to say, he was asked about Marois as well as Lisee's comments.

''I understand how busy the premier is and, for me, it's just a matter of time (before we meet),'' Trudeau said. ''I am looking forward to talking to her when she has the time. She has a bit more on her plate these days than I have.''

As for Lisee and Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Alexandre Cloutier, who accused Trudeau of being arrogant and contemptuous toward Quebecers, Trudeau first took the high road before firing off a jab of his own.

''I understand that they don't agree with my political vision and I would have liked to have met Madame Marois today to find common ground on Mr. (Prime Minister Stephen) Harper's (Employment Insurance) reforms, which have a considerable effect on not just Quebecers but all Canadians.''

He quickly added that, ''spending an enormous amount of time being extremely negative toward one another doesn't really interest me.''

Trudeau's visit came as he had become embroiled in a debate over the circumstances under which his father introduced the Constitution in 1982.

A new book suggests the event was marred by improper behaviour by the Supreme Court of Canada, and Quebec's political parties are demanding more information on the court's role.

The younger Trudeau has shown no interest in reopening the constitutional debate; he has further irritated nationalists by suggesting that Quebec, led in 1982 by PQ founder Rene Levesque, made a "choice" not to endorse the deal.

Trudeau said at his scrum Thursday he shares Quebecers' concerns about making sure there is a separation of powers between the executive and the judiciary.

''(But) for me, the fact the Supreme Court...is looking into it to see what happened with chief justice Bora Laskin satisfies me for the moment. Let's see what they come up with.''

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