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On Quebec's official holiday, Harper urges province to avoid isolating itself

SAINT-LAZARE-DE-BELLECHASSE, Que. - Following the return of a federalist government in Quebec, Prime Minister Stephen Harper urged the province on Tuesday to resist isolating itself from the rest of the country.

In a speech marking Quebec's annual holiday known as Fete nationale, Harper also asked Quebecers to consider voting for his party in Oct. 2015.

"Never let anyone tell you, 'Quebec should isolate itself, never participate in major national and international issues,'" he said in a speech at a community centre in Saint-Lazare-de-Bellechasse, outside Quebec City.

"Quebec played a role in the creation of Canada, in its growth and development, and in the common sacrifices that mark its history."

The remarks were a rare attempt by Harper to make inroads in the province.

He insisted the voice of Quebecers remains strong in Ottawa, even if the Conservatives have a limited presence in the province. The party won just five of Quebec's 75 federal seats in the last election.

In his speech, Harper reminded the crowd of earlier efforts to reach out.

He said Conservatives adopted a motion in the House of Commons recognizing Quebecers form a nation within a united Canada and gave the province a seat in Canada's UNESCO delegation.

Harper made the comments before about 500 people in the riding of Conservative MP Steven Blaney, on the first day of a two-day visit to Quebec.

On Wednesday, Harper is set to make an announcement alongside Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard in his home riding of Roberval, in the province's Lac-Saint-Jean region.

Couillard, a staunch federalist, won a majority in the April 7 election, beating out Pauline Marois' Parti Quebecois.

Conservative MP Denis Lebel said the result was significant.

"It's clear that the last election has changed the situation," said Lebel, the federal infrastructure minister.

"We had a former government (the PQ) who wanted to take Quebec out of Canada. For us, that's not the direction we want to go."

Harper didn't always have smooth relations with former Liberal Premier Jean Charest, either, but the Conservatives appear to be looking for a fresh start.

Lebel, who will also be at Wednesday's announcement, said the Conservative government is committed to getting things done with Couillard's Liberals.

"Today, we have a federalist government for the next four-and-a-half years, and I hope that we can do great things together and I think in the coming hours we will show our ability to work together," he said.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version gave an incorrect name for Quebec's former Liberal premier.

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