QUEBEC — As "gotcha" questions go, it was pretty mild, but Quebec Premier Francois Legault stumbled this week when asked why he is proud to be Canadian.
Appearing before a legislature committee Wednesday, Legault was grilled by interim Parti Quebecois leader Pascal Berube about his attachment to Canada.
Berube, whose party is committed to pulling Quebec out of Canada, sensed a vulnerability in Legault, who before founding the Coalition Avenir Quebec was a PQ cabinet minister pitching the merits of sovereignty.
"Why are you proud to be Canadian?" Berube asked several times as the premier skirted the question.
"I am firstly proud to be a Quebecer," Legault finally replied. "I accept that Quebec is in Canada. I think there are advantages to remaining in Canada. First of all, $13 billion in equalization, that's a good start. Next, well, there are the social programs that exist in Canada. There are good hockey teams in Canada .... There are advantages."
Legault said ultimately he would like to reduce the amount of equalization Quebec receives from Ottawa by increasing Quebec's wealth.
"I don't like being lumped in with the Maritime provinces," he said. "I would prefer to be beside Ontario or the western provinces. But for that, the economy has to be prioritized."
Legault sought to turn the tables on Berube, saying the election of his government last October shows Quebecers have had enough of the old sovereigntist-federalist battles.
"I have arrived at the conclusion that the priority of Quebecers is more around education, the economy, health care and protecting our language, protecting our identity, protecting our values, protecting who we are," Legault said.