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The BBC's Mike Fox in Montreal
"Mr Landry said he would continue to use blunt language to tell the Canadian government what he thinks"
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Wednesday, 24 January, 2001, 23:26 GMT
Maple leaf 'rag' remark sparks row
Quebecois leader Bernard Landry
Bernard Landry said Quebec is not for sale
Canada is aflutter with controversy after the man likely to become the next leader of Quebec's governing Parti Quebecois reportedly called the country's maple leaf flag a "red rag".

Quebec's Deputy Premier, Bernard Landry, quickly apologised for the comment, made on Tuesday at a party meeting.

When you say something is a chiffon, it's not a compliment

Stephane Dion, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister
He said on Wednesday that it was "not his intention" to offend, and that his remarks - made in French - had been misinterpreted and mistranslated.

But a statement from the office of Prime Minister Jean Chretien on Wednesday said: "This kind of excessive language is unacceptable from any Canadian, let alone one who aspires to lead his province."

Mr Landry, Quebec's finance minister, is the main candidate for leadership of the governing Parti Quebecois, which advocates independence or autonomy for the French-speaking province.

Zoo offer spurned

On Tuesday, he criticised an offer of funds from the Canadian federal government to help refurbish a Quebec zoo - if it flew the federal maple leaf flag and posted signs in both French and English, the country's two official languages.

His exact words in French, according to Canadian reports, were: "Le Quebec ne ferait pas le trottoir pour un bout de chiffon rouge."

Most reporters translated that as "Quebec is not for sale for a few bits of red rag," enraging people across this normally even-tempered country.

Mr Landry apologised on Wednesday for "the effect of that choice of word".

He said he was referring to the red flag that toreadors wave in front of bulls during bullfights, and that the phrase "chiffon rouge" was an old French expression for provocation.

Offensive in French

But the federal Intergovernmental Affairs Minister, Stephane Dion, told the BBC Mr Landry's explanation did not hold water.

Lucien Bouchard
Lucien Bouchard was more moderate than Mr Landry promises to be
Mr Dion denied the row resulted from poor translation: "It was shocking in French too. When you say something is a chiffon, it's not a compliment."

In the same speech that started the flag flap, Mr Landry called Mr Dion "the most detested politician in the history of Quebec".

The specifics of the dispute aside, many Canadians consider Mr Landry's flag-waving to be a sign that he will take a harder line on Quebecois separatism than the current caretaker leader, Lucien Bouchard, who resigned on 11 January.

The French-speaking province has repeatedly tried to secede from Canada, most recently rejecting independence by a tiny margin in a 1995 referendum.

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11 Jan 01 | Americas
Quebec separatist premier quits
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