Opposition parties in Quebec are outraged at the nomination of former Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe as head of a new commission on the impact of federal changes to the employment insurance program.
Mr. Duceppe's appointment comes after several demonstrations in the province in which seasonal workers expressed concern that EI reform will force them to work outside their communities for reduced pay. The Parti Québécois government refused to detail the mandate of the commission, which was expected to tour the province. It also declined to say how much Mr. Duceppe will be paid.
"It will be announced in due and proper form next Wednesday. But indeed Mr. Duceppe will play an important role," said Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Alexandre Cloutier.
Liberal Opposition Leader Jean-Marc Fournier said Mr. Duceppe will be nothing more than an "agent provocateur" as part of a "separatist" strategy by Premier Pauline Marois to promote fights with Ottawa.
"She has chosen to take the champion of separation on the federal scene and have him tour Quebec. Honestly this is unacceptable … it is pure hypocrisy," Mr. Fournier said during a news conference.
Mr. Fournier accused the PQ of deliberately "cultivating failure" with Ottawa to boost the separatist cause. Instead, he said, Ms. Marois should be attempting to build alliances with other provinces to help fend off the federal government's efforts to wrestle back control of the job-training program.
"It's always the same old PQ recipe," Mr. Fournier said in the National Assembly. "First you cultivate failure and then you blame the others because it failed. It is a hypocritical and despicable recipe that is hurting Quebec."
Coalition Avenir Quebec leader François Legault accused the PQ of being no different from the Liberals by making partisan appointments. "She hasn't understood that Quebeckers are fed up with partisan nominations," Mr. Legault said. "After nine years of Liberal cronyism we expected more than another six months of PQ cronyism."
The political environment in the National Assembly has become so hostile that the parties would not collectively support one motion denouncing the EI reform and federal intrusion in job training programs, although they all agree in principle.
An estimated 40 per cent of Canada's seasonal workers live in Quebec. The EI reform, some workers claim, would mean lost benefits if they do not accept jobs within an hour's drive of their residence, and others could be required to take less pay than they had before.
Ms. Marois made a desperate call for all of Quebec to speak in a single voice on this issue. "We need to create a coalition here," she said. "We need to close ranks … so we can go out and get the support of all citizens who are concerned by this frontal attack by Ottawa."
The opposition parties argued that a consensus already existed in Quebec against federal intrusion into job training and EI reform, and that the Duceppe tour is nothing more than a pre-election campaign ploy. The Liberals and the CAQ will support a motion on Thursday calling on Quebec to join forces with the other provinces in fighting Ottawa on the issue.