Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

PM steers clear of PQ's Maple Leaf flap

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QUEBEC -- Stephen Harper showed little interest in talking about the Parti Québécois government's treatment of the Canadian flag during a visit to Quebec City on Friday.

The prime minister arrived in the capital to news the new pro-independence government had taken steps this week to officially yank the Maple Leaf from the provincial legislature.

The move to pull the flag from its sole spot in the national assembly met with noisy resistance from provincial opposition parties -- but not from Harper, who steered clear of the controversy when asked about it.

"What can I say?" Harper replied, paused, and drew chuckles from an audience. "What I can say is our priority, for the people of Quebec and for the rest of Canada, is the economy. I think that's the real priority of Quebecers -- not old quarrels. I have no intention of participating in those old debates."

That drew applause from a friendly crowd, as Harper announced federal plans to rebuild Quebec City's historic military armoury that was destroyed by fire four years ago.

If Harper showed little inclination to speak about the PQ, he was no more eager Friday to speak with it.

The provincial government was miffed it was not involved in the planning of the armoury repairs or in the announcement event, which took place near the provincial legislature.

Harper did appear at the $100-million announcement with the popular local mayor, Regis Labeaume. But there was no sign of the provincial government.

Harper insisted that wasn't his doing. "This is, of course, strictly a federal announcement. We did extend an invitation to the (province's) regional minister who, I gather, was unable to attend," Harper said.

That provincial minister later explained she was invited -- on Friday morning, before the announcement. Agnes Maltais said she had another event and couldn't make it.

Harper didn't meet with Premier Pauline Marois.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 17, 2012 A25

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