Quebec

Maine doesn't see Quebec
sovereignty as a threat

ROCKPORT, Me. - Premier Lucien Bouchard got the message
he wanted Thursday from two American politicians: Quebec's
future is an internal matter and economic ties would be kept with
their state if it leaves Canada.

"The future of Quebec is essentially a Canadian matter," Maine
Governor Angus King said at a news conference with Bouchard in
Rockport, a community on the Atlantic Ocean.

"It's not up to us to sit on the sidelines and suggest what the
solution should be," King added.

Bouchard was on a one-day tour of Maine to attend a business
development conference to promote trade between the two
struggling economies.

King, whose motto is "Export or die' said putting people to work
is his priority. "Jobs is really what it's all about."

Mark Lawrence, president of the state's Senate, said Maine would
keep economic ties with an independent Quebec.

"We have a strong history with Quebec and whatever form of
government Quebec chooses, we intend to maintain a strong
relationship with Quebec," Lawrence said.

Bouchard couldn't disagree, adding that the first rule of diplomacy
is to stay clear of your neighbor's political problems.

"No country would like to see other countries get involved in their
internal business," the premier said.

Bouchard didn't shy away from the sovereignty issue.

He tried avoiding the matter last time he was in New England,
saying it slipped his mind. He visited Boston last June and said
questions about Quebec voting to leave Canada hadn't been
raised.

But Bouchard still preferred to dwell on the economic aspects of
the Maine trip, saying it's important for the state and the province
to strengthen their economic ties.

Trade between them is worth about $207 million US annually.
They aim to increase tourism and technology and possibly
designate a heritage highway between Quebec and Maine.

Bouchard said he hopes the trip boosts Quebec's international
image and "doesn't hurt its reputation."

King and Lawrence played up Maine's strong French cultural
heritage. About 30 per cent of the state's population of more than
one million have French roots. They left Quebec at the turn of the
century to work in New England's textile mills.

Maine, one of Quebec's closest U.S. neighbors, is also a popular
tourist destination in the summer for Quebecers.

Bouchard, who likes to visit Maine in the summer with his family,
has struck up a friendship with King based on their passion for
Thomas Jefferson, a father of the U.S. Declaration of
Independence.

King gave Bouchard a portrait of Jefferson. In turn, Bouchard
gave King a book by Jefferson about the problems with debt,
something Bouchard said his "foes in Quebec say I'm obsessed
about."

King, who didn't seem surprised to receive the book, said the
exchange of Jefferson-related gifts was a coincidence.

"We didn't plan this," he laughed.