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Quebec says an unco-operative Ottawa drove conflict to courts

Jean-Marc Fournier, Quebec Justice minister, answers reporters questions during a press conference regarding a meeting with Minister of Justice Rob Nicholson on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, November 22, 2011.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Conservative promise of consensus-building "open federalism" towards Quebec has evolved into a climate of confrontation where Ottawa and the province are set to clash again before the courts.

This time the conflict involves the gun registry and Air Canada's aircraft maintenance operations – in both cases, Quebec says it was being pushed to the brink because of Ottawa's refusal to co-operate.

On Tuesday, the Quebec government announced it was seeking an injunction to prevent Ottawa from destroying data from the gun registry once the bill abolishing the registry receives royal assent this week. Quebec is seeking an injunction to challenge the federal government's jurisdiction regarding the gun registry data over which the province claims part ownership and which it wants to use to set up its own registry.

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"It is a common registry," Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier said. "The federal government seems to want to stop the provinces from using the data to set up their own gun registry. This is the opposite of co-operation, it is a denial of co-operation and it violates our right to exercise our jurisdiction."

If co-operative federalism is to make any sense, Mr. Fournier argued it must be backed by a political will from Ottawa to work with the provinces. The case of the gun registry, he added, is a clear illustration of the lack of co-operation that has so often characterized the Conservative government in Ottawa.

"This is proof that in this case the federal government doesn't want collaboration. And what we are saying is that [the federal government]cannot decide that," Mr. Fournier said.

Quebec is taking aim at Ottawa on another front as well – to save the 1,800 jobs at the insolvent Aveos Fleet Performance Inc., the aircraft maintenance company which closed down operations last month. Aveos handled the maintenance of Air Canada's aircrafts.

Mr. Fournier argued the 1988 federal law known as the Air Canada Public Participation Act which allowed for the privatization of the airline required the carrier to maintain operational and overhaul centres in Montreal, Winnipeg and Mississauga.

Quebec sent a legal notice to the airline on Tuesday demanding that it explain "in a detailed and satisfactory way" how it intends to comply with the law. The airline was given 10 days to respond. If Quebec concludes that Air Canada fails to meet its legal obligation, Mr. Fournier said legal action will taken against the airline. Quebec may also take aim at the federal government for refusing to enforce the law.

"The simplest thing would be for everyone to say: There are obligations, so let's meet them," Mr. Fournier said.

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The federal government released a legal opinion claiming that Air Canada has not violated the 1988 act. Mr. Fournier said Quebec doesn't agree with Ottawa's assessment.

"It's the appropriate time to verify whether we are all on the same page regarding this legal obligation that we find in the law. And if in 10 days we don't get a satisfactory clarification on this we will go before the courts," Mr. Fourner said. "We want Air Canada to tell us how it plans to respect the legal obligations adopted [in 1988]by Ottawa."

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About the Author
Quebec City political correspondent

Rhéal Séguin is a journalist and political scientist. Born and educated in southern Ontario, he completed his undergraduate degree in political science at York University and a master's degree in political science at the Université du Québec à Montréal.Rhéal has practised journalism since 1978, first with Radio-Canada in radio and television and then with CBC Radio. More

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