Pauline Marois takes part in the swearing-in ceremony of the members of the Parti Quebecois in front of the spot where the Canadian Flag used to stand at the National Assembly in Quebec on Monday Sept. 17, 2012.
Credits: STEVENS LEBLANC/QMI AGENCY
OTTAWA -- Federal Conservatives aren't standing behind the national flag -- despite rallying behind a bill last summer that enshrined the right of Canadians to proudly fly the Maple Leaf.
Most Tory MPs avoided commenting on the controversial move by Quebec's minority separatist government-in-waiting's decision to at least temporarily remove the flag from the ceremonial chamber of the national assembly.
The red-and-white symbol was absent from the upper chamber as the 54 newly elected Parti Quebecois MNAs were sworn in Monday.
The few that did, including Industry Minister Christian Paradis and Heritage Minister James Moore, stuck to one line: Quebecers don't want to revisit old constitutional battles of the past.
"It is important to be proud of our symbols, our institution. It does include the Canadian flag. That said, however, we want to keep away from these old flags quarrels," Paradis told reporters Tuesday.
It's a more muted message over the flag than ones released by the party in support of Ontario Tory MP John Carmichael's private member's bill, which received royal assent in June.
His bill encourages all Canadians to proudly fly the Maple Leaf.
"Canada's national flag is one of the most powerful symbols of our identity. It belongs to each and every one of us, and remains the most visible reminder of what it means to be Canadian," a statement about the bill on the Conservative party's website says.
Quebec Liberal MP Stephane Dion said he wasn't surprised the PQ removed the flag from the legislature -- "the news would be if they kept it," he noted -- but that federal politicians should be standing up for the symbol.
"Mr. Harper is not able to say, 'I love the Canadian flag, I hope the Canadian flag will be seen in every legislative assembly across this great country?' He's not able to say that? I can't believe it," Dion said outside the Commons.
Dion said he wanted both the federal and provincial flags in the national assembly, and he called on the PQ to keep the maple leaf there.
The NDP is also refusing to wade into the debate over whether the flag should fly in provincial legislature.
Asked whether he thought Canadians could be offended by the move, especially given the billions of dollars the province gets in equalization payments, NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice said he loved all the flags of Canada -- provincial and federal.
"I understand perfectly it can be seen as something rude, but at the same time, it's the decision of (premier-designate) Pauline Marois and her minority government, and it's their own business."
Dion called the NDP reaction "lamentable."
The flag was removed Monday as the PQ MNAs were sworn in, but returned when the Liberal caucus was sworn in Tuesday.
It's not clear whether the PQ will decide to remove the flag permanently when they officially take office Wednesday.
The issue of whether the Canadian flag flies in the national assembly has been a tug-of-war since the 1980s between separatist and federalist parties in Quebec.