MONTREAL - It never hurts to ask.
Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois sent a letter Friday to Prime Minister Stephen Harper asking to meet him about the federal gun registry.
If the provincial opposition leader was holding her breath waiting for a reply, she needn't have waited very long. The response from the Prime Minister's Office was an immediate and unequivocal refusal.
In a letter dated Friday, Marois noted that the registry was set up in the wake of the Ecole polytechnique massacre of 14 women in 1989 and says it has since proven useful to police.
Marois also said that since Ottawa has voted to abolish the registry, Quebec would like to set up its own system and use the information gathered by the federal government — even though the feds have steadfastly refused such a request.
The letter does carry a whiff of internal Quebec politics.
The PQ frequently makes demands of the federal government even when — and perhaps especially when — there's a high likelihood of refusal from Ottawa.
Such cases offer the separatists a potential win-win scenario. In the event of any concession, they stand to gain credit. And, if they're refused, there's always potential for a nationalist backlash.
In her letter, Marois acknowledges that Harper has already declined to meet with Premier Jean Charest over the issue. But she says she's hoping Harper might still agree to meet with her.
''As leader of the official Opposition, I'm prepared to go to Ottawa to meet you on this issue or to receive you in Montreal or Quebec,'' Marois said.
''I sincerely hope that you agree to this meeting which would demonstrate your respect for the Quebecois nation.''
Harper used a House of Commons motion to declare the Quebecois a nation in 2006. Since then, sovereigntist politicians have cited that distinction multiple times when asking for special treatment from the federal government, such as on the issue of the number of Commons seats allocated per province.
On the gun registry and on other issues, Marois has sought to cast the federal government as out of touch with Quebec values and has actively promoted disagreements with Ottawa in an effort to isolate and embarrass Charest.
In this case, the response from the feds was swift.
''Mrs. Marois wants to create fights and we're not getting involved in her game,'' said a statement from Harper's office.
''The provinces are free in their jurisdiction to act (in creating a registry) if they want to. However, we wouldn't encourage them to create an expensive registry that unnecessarily targets hunters and farmers. For our part, it's promise made and promise kept toward Quebecers from rural regions.''