Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard called on the prime minister to read his plan on eventually launching new constitutional talks before closing the door on the matter.
Speaking at the provincial legislature, Couillard said Thursday the plan is to reach out beyond the government in Ottawa and talk to citizens across the provinces and territories with an eye to creating favourable conditions that could lead to the eventual reopening of constitutional negotiations and to Quebec finally approving the 1982 Constitution.
"What we are proposing today is not a constitutional approach," Couillard said. "That is the ultimate destination. It is first of all a process of resuming dialogue and understanding between the peoples who formed this country."
Justin Trudeau threw cold water on the Quebec government's plan to reopen the constitutional debate even before Couillard could formally present it later Thursday.
Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard walks to a news conference on Feb. 14, 2017 in Quebec City. (Photo: Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)
Responding to a Canadian Press report that Quebec is embarking on a broad national discussion in the coming months in the hopes of having the province's distinct character officially recognized, Trudeau dismissed it as a non-starter.
"You know my opinion on the Constitution," Trudeau said as he arrived on Parliament Hill for a cabinet meeting.
"We're not reopening the Constitution."
The Canadian Press obtained a copy of Couillard's thinking on Quebec's place within Canada, a 200-page founding document entitled, "Quebecers: Our Way of Being Canadians."
"We are Quebecers. Our nation is the founder of the country," Couillard said. "We will engage in dialogue with other Canadians. As for the reaction of the prime minister of Canada, he will have an opportunity, I believe, to react again when he reads the document."
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The document states the famous "five conditions" for approval first set out by former Quebec premier Robert Bourassa in 1986: recognition of Quebec as a distinct society, limits on federal spending power, guaranteed Quebec representation on the Supreme Court, a constitutional veto right and increased control over immigration.
Parti Quebecois Leader Jean-Francois Lisee said Couillard's move suggests that all is not well between Quebec and Canada.
"I want to salute the fact that he recognizes the problem," Lisee said. "He's been in denial for the last three years, saying that there was no problem with Quebec within Canada. And now, he says the problem is so great that we have to change — and I'm quoting here — 'so that Quebecers do not feel like exiles in their own country."'
Lisee said he wants to hear what Couillard will propose.
"If you want to fix a problem, the first thing to do is to recognize its existence. And today, at last, he recognizes the problem," he said.