MONTREAL - The new Parti Quebecois government is recalibrating its message and is scaling down its ambitions for wresting powers from Ottawa.
Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Alexandre Cloutier says the PQ's objectives are now modest enough that he even expects to find common ground with the Harper government in some areas.
The message stands in contrast to the PQ's recent election platform which promised fights with the federal government while attempting to take over powers as diverse as foreign aid and income-tax collection.
Cloutier tells The Canadian Press in an interview that the PQ will seek control over Quebec's financial share of federal programs that should, under the Constitution, fall under provincial jurisdiction anyway — such as infrastructure and health care.
He says that approach is perfectly compatible with the oft-stated message from the Conservatives that they want to put an end to paternalistic federalism.
In the early days of the Harper government, there was even a promise to formally limit federal spending power in areas that fall under provincial responsibility — although nothing ever came of that promise.
Cloutier says the Tories will have many chances over the coming months to prove that they meant what they said.
The 35-year-old constitutional lawyer says the PQ government's limited minority mandate means it won't immediately trigger constitutional battles with Ottawa.
He says he hopes to persuade Quebec's opposition parties over time that constitutional changes are best for the province.
Cloutier holds a unique role in the new PQ cabinet: he is the minister responsible for "sovereigntist government," meaning that his job is to make Quebec more independent and loosen ties to Canada.
Pauline Marois will meet Harper face to face this week for the first time since she was elected premier last month.