'Delicate negotiations' ahead to give Quebec UNESCO voice

Province invited to play role in organization

2006 textes seuls

Quebec will soon become the first Canadian province to have its own say at the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said yesterday.
Responding to questions from the Bloc Quebecois as question period resumed yesterday, he revealed his officials have already begun negotiations with Premier Jean Charest's government.
"As concerns the question of UNESCO, this government has invited Quebec to participate in this organism," Harper told the House. "We are currently in negotiations with the Quebec government. I am optimistic that we will have a result soon."
Harper was vague on just what form Quebec's role could take. "We have a lot of flexibility on the arrangements. However it is necessary that at the end that we have a resolution that conforms to the rules of UNESCO itself."
In a key speech during the election campaign, Harper promised Quebec a role in UNESCO similar to the one it plays in the Francophonie, where Quebec has a separate seat from Canada, is free to speak with its own voice and adopt its own positions. Observers have since pointed out that the rules that govern UNESCO do not provide for a separate seat for provinces.
A spokesperson for Quebec International Affairs Minister Monique Gagnon-Tremblay said she and Foreign Affairs Minister Peter Mackay were given a mandate to begin talks following the meeting by Harper and Charest in Quebec City last month. However, the decision was also made to keep the talks secret.
"They are delicate negotiations," explained Valery Langlois, who described discussions to date as "constructive."
Langlois said Quebec is holding to five conditions: a full role within the Canadian delegation at international forums, access to all information and participation in drafting Canada's position, the right to express itself with its own voice, the right to give its consent before Canada signs treaties or accords and - when Quebec interests are at stake - the right to express its own position during Canada's appearances before international bodies.
Yesterday, Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe was quick to interpret Harper's vague answer on Quebec's UNESCO role as an attempt to water down the promise he made in the last election.
The Bloc also tried to pin down the government on just when it plans to keep another election promise - to resolve the fiscal imbalance between the federal government and the provinces. Earlier, Harper said the coming budget will not address the issue.
Meanwhile, some questioned the Throne Speech's focus on Quebec. "He obviously has certain political plans, I dare say electoral plans," Liberal Joe Volpe said. "It is not necessarily a political program that envisages a federalism that has a place for everyone and for all the provinces."

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