Couillard refuses to let Lisée off sovereignty hook

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QUEBEC — It has only been 24 hours, but they couldn’t resist themselves.

The age-old federalism versus sovereignty debate got the best of Premier Philippe Couillard and opposition Parti Québécois Leader Jean-François Lisée in the heat of question period Tuesday.

Despite Lisée’s attempt to go with a question on the economy, Couillard kicked off hostilities when he unabashedly suggested Lisée cannot be trusted despite his pledge to put referendums on ice for four years.

Referring to him as a full time “strategist” with no real vision for Quebec, Couillard said Lisée has ulterior motives in everything he does.

With his brilliant scheme to woo Québec solidiare into the PQ in a shambles, Couillard said Lisée now has turned to hatching a new plan to win some looming byelections.

Above all, Lisée wants to make Quebecers believe what he said in the recent leadership campaign is true: that he has put sovereignty aside for a few years, Couillard said.

Undaunted, Lisée ripped Couillard for consistently trying to paper over his dubious record in office by turning every question about his government’s performance into questions about independence.

“If the premier wants to talk about independence, I challenge him to debate with me, on television, for an hour, federalism and independence,” Lisée fired back.

Couillard responded: “I am going to continue talking about Quebec separation here because I want to put in relief the difference between the two political parties.

“Them, they are in the clouds, in a parallel reality where Canada is a ghastly country for Quebecers, where we are mistreated, humiliated, under siege when it is the country most envied on the planet and Quebecers know that.

“The economy is going better, employment is better, things in general are going better because we are no longer talking about separation.”

Later, Couillard ruled out Lisée’s invitation.

“I’d rather talk about items that really concern Quebecers and are their true priorities like the economy and jobs,” Couillard told reporters in the hall.

“So why doesn’t he answer questions on economy,” Lisée fired back. “I ask about the economy, he answers with sovereignty. His record cannot be defended, so he talks about other things.”

The exchange prompted Coalition Avenir Québec Leader François Legault to say he wished all Quebecers had been listening to question period to see how “surreal” things have become.

Legault said only his party is grounded in reality.

pauthier@montrealgazette.com

Twitter.com/philipauthier