NEW YORK, N.Y. - Pauline Marois, in her first U.S. speech since becoming premier, said Quebec is open for business and that she hopes it will one day be operating as a sovereign country.
She said her speech to the Foreign Policy Association, which focused mostly on economic issues while making a reference to independence, was in line with previous interventions by sovereigntist premiers.
"As you know, I hope that one day the people of Quebec will one day be a part of the concert of nations," she told the audience.
"This is an internal debate. This will happen when Quebecers are ready."
Quebec sovereignty would not change the borders or the province's relationship with the United States, she told her audience of about 300 business people who paid $150 each to hear her.
It was not her first foreign trip since taking office in September: Marois had already attended a Francophonie summit in Congo and stopped by France on the way home.
But this appearance represented a unique challenge for Marois. While in opposition, she had taken some ribbing for the quality of her English and there had been speculation in Quebec media about how she would fare on trips like these. She made it through Thursday's speech, in English.
Federalist Liberal premier Jean Charest had talked to the same group a year ago
Like her predecessor, Marois insisted there were plenty of business opportunities and she emphasized the different measures and tax credits that are available. She promoted her plan to offer a 10-year tax holiday for companies that set up major operations in Quebec.
While she had been deeply critical of Charest's Plan Nord before taking office, she was touting the merits of Quebec's northern-development project Thursday. Marois said she is interested in exploiting the remote region but is reviewing details of the Liberal plan.
Marois told a news conference that her government is examining the royalties paid by companies that will mine the area's resources. Her government has also trimmed down the size of a planned publicly funded road in the north, to one lane.
"There will be different requirements than the previous government had," she said. "But these requirements will still be reasonable because we want to continue to develop the north."
Marois said she is keen on developing trade with the U.S., which receives 70 per cent of the province's exports.
She said she wants to deepen economic ties with the U.S., in particular New York State.
Earlier in the day, Marois opened a new government office to help small Quebec businesses that want to get into foreign markets.
Marois said New York is the logical place for the first of a planned 14 such offices around the world.
"New York is the financial capital," she said.