|Prime Minister Stephen Harper. (Chris Roussakis/QMI Agency Files)
VANCOUVER - Prime Minister Stephen Harper tried to calm foreign investors spooked by the election Tuesday of a separatist government in Quebec by saying that Quebecers voted for a change of government, not a change of countries.
After Quebecers narrowly chose Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois to be the province's next premier, stock market analysts slapped the National Bank of Canada, based in Montreal, with a downgrade, citing the uncertain political environment in the province where that bank does much of its business.
Here in Vancouver on Thursday afternoon, Harper was asked if the minority win by the Parti Quebecois might threaten Canada's reputation internationally as a safe haven for investments amidst global economic turmoil.
"Anyone who's following this carefully will see in the (election) results that the people of Quebec voted for change. There was a pretty strong desire," Harper said. "At the same time, I think it was pretty clear they were denying any kind of a mandate to pursue the separation of Quebec and the division of Canada. I think that mandate is clear."
Harper had a brief telephone conversation with Marois after her election in which they talked about some of the general issues facing the country and Quebec.
"I've indicated to the premier that, as with all provinces, we will continue to be focused on the interests of the Canadian economy, job creation, long-term prosperity and economic growth. That's going to be our focus and it's our focus across the country.
"We're certainly prepared to collaborate with any provincial government on those shared objectives," Harper said.
Harper made his remarks at a conference for well-heeled investors put on by the Bloomberg News agency. His comments were in response to questions put to him by a Bloomberg journalist.
Harper said he was not worried about a new separatist threat or that there will be new calls in that province for a referendum.
"Because the people of Quebec don't want that. And I think that was clear in the results," Harper said.
"And I don't think there's any reason to believe, from the results, that we will actually face that kind of an issue. I feel quite confident in that."