04/03/2013 21:51 EDT | Updated 06/03/2013 05:12 EDT

PQ creates $1.5M panel to challenge federal EI reform

A new panel created by the Quebec government to challenge federal employment insurance reforms is being criticized for promoting a sovereigntist agenda.

The province’s intergovernmental affairs minister unveiled his so-called "sovereignty governance" plan on Wednesday and it includes a roving panel that will look at reversing Ottawa’s controversial reforms to employment insurance.

Coalition Avenir Québec labour critic, Sylvain Lévesque, says the PQ should try to collaborate with other provinces affected by the EI reforms.

“They're trying to divide us,” Lévesque said.

“They're trying to set fires all over Quebec, instead of working with all the strength we could have by working with other provinces in Canada."

Quebec’s Liberal party also expressed doubts about the panel’s true intentions.

"[It's another] excuse for touring regions of Quebec and promoting sovereignty, at the taxpayers' expense," said Laurent Lessard, the Liberal economic development critic.

But Cloutier said the focus will be centred on federal policy changes.

"I'd be very surprised, with all due respect, that they discuss sovereignty, when the question being asked is to measure the impact of the employment insurance reform," he said.

Cloutier also confirmed a new cabinet directive that directs Quebec ministers use French primarily when dealing with their federal counterparts.

However, he denied that measure is an all-out ban on the use of English when dealing with Ottawa, as some reports have suggested.

"It's not language restrictions, I just want to be clear on that. The minister may speak in English if they feel they need to," Cloutier said.