PQ loses fight to turf Canadian flag from National Assembly

Quebec's two main opposition parties have used the Canadian flag to slap Premier Pauline Marois' minority Parti Quebecois government.

The 65-53 vote Tuesday to retain one red and white Maple Leaf on public display in the National Assembly's so-called Red Room was entirely symbolic and politically tactical.

But it was a painless way for the Liberals, defeated in the Sept. 4 provincial election, and the Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ), a mixed bag of federalists and sovereignists, to hand the PQ a defeat without bringing down the government and forcing another election.

Just last week, the Liberals engineered enough absences from the assembly to ensure the PQ's watered-down budget passed by one vote, as CBC News noted.

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Marois has been forced to compromise, too, backing away from plans to toughen Bill 101, Quebec's notorious language law. She'd promised changes that would have boosted the number of language police and made it harder to use English in CEGEPs, the entry-level colleges many Quebecers attend after graduating high school.

National Post columnist Graeme Hamilton pointed out the government's own language watchdog, the Office québécois de la langue française, has concluded that the use of French in the workplace is relatively stable. And it was growing steadily among allophones, immigrants whose first language is neither French nor English.

Concern new Quebecers will default to English has been a perennial tool to whip up fear francophone culture is under threat.

The Canadian flag's continued presence in the National Assembly is a symbolic blow to decades of effort by Quebec nationalists to try to erase evidence the province is still part of Canada. Sometimes the only place the Maple Leaf is highly visible is on federal government buildings or projects.

Separatists hate the Canadian flag, witness its treatment at a weekend demonstration in Montreal, where a YouTube video shows it being laid out on the road to be driven over and stamped on.

The National Assembly's Red Room, the former Quebec senate chamber now used for committee meetings, was the only place in the building where the flag was visible, The Canadian Press reported.

Since their first victory in 1976, the PQ have removed it whenever they've been in power, only to see it return under the Liberals.

But most Quebecers apparently still cherish the Canadian flag. As CP noted, a recent online poll found 66 per cent of Quebec respondents agreeing that the flag was an important source of pride in Canada.

[ Related: Two-thirds of Quebecers call Maple Leaf flag source of 'personal pride' ]

The PQ motion to get rid of the Red Room's Maple Leaf was seen as a waste of time by the opposition.

"We are a coalition of sovereignists and federalists with federalists who strongly believe in Canada," CAQ leader François Legault said in the Globe and Mail.

"And this is certainly not a priority. Everyone agrees that with the issues of corruption, poor management of public funds and economic problems that this is not the time be concerned about the flag."

PQ MNA Yves-François Blanchet, who introduced the motion and was recently sworn in as environment minister, called the vote a dark and shameful gesture.

"We now have this setback, imposed on the Quebec National Assembly which restricts it from displaying its own flag," Blanchet said, ignoring its exclusive presence everywhere else in the building, including the Blue Room where MNAs debate and vote on legislation.

Blanchet, looking ahead to the next election, used the CAQ's opposition to his motion to question the credentials of its sovereignist members.

"Why are the Liberals and even more so the Coalition ashamed to explain their positions?" Blanchet said in the Globe.

"I hope the voters in their ridings watched them stand-up and vote a position that is ultra-federalist. The Quebec flag is not a sovereignist symbol. It is the symbol of all Quebecers."