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Prime Minister Paul Martin's vision of a national daycare program, intended as an element of Canadian "nation-building," is unacceptable to Quebec.
"I don't intend to get down on my knees to Ottawa," Benoit Pelletier, Quebec's intergovernmental affairs minister, said yesterday.
Pelletier said that negotiations between the province and the federal government over Quebec's share of a $5-billion federal fund set aside for daycare are stalled over Ottawa's insistence on pan-Canadian norms.
"We haven't reached an agreement in this file," Pelletier told reporters. "That means they are trying to make us accept proposals that we find unacceptable."
Martin committed himself to work with the provinces and territories to develop a national daycare plan modelled on Quebec's $7-a-day program, initiated by the previous Parti Quebecois government.
Pelletier said. "It is true we are the model."
But for Quebec, tailoring its daycare program to match federal criteria is "not negotiable," Pelletier said.
"All the more reason to have a right to opt out with full financial compensation, unconditionally," he added.
In a speech this week to senior federal public servants in Gatineau, Martin said the plan his government is developing will be about more than quality care for children.
"I am convinced that when future generations look back they will recognize, in our pan-Canadian approach to early learning, a project of nation-building in the same sense as universal medicare," Martin said.
Pelletier said Martin's approach is not surprising.
"However, the intentions of Quebec have not changed," the Quebec minister said. "For us, it is very clear that there is no question that we will submit to national norms, to national constraints in the matter."
Negotiations between Ottawa and Quebec on transferring federal money for Quebec's daycare plan were suspended for the summer. Pelletier said he expects they will resume soon.
But Quebec insisted it will not conform to federal guidelines.
- reprinted from the Montreal Gazette