And they're off: Candidates begin 33-day race for Quebec leadership
Published Wednesday, March 5, 2014 9:55AM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 8:12PM EST
Premier Pauline Marois officially announced Wednesday the dissolution of the National Assembly, signaling the beginning of a snap election.
Though she did not give a date for the election in her address from Quebec City, a news release later confirmed Quebecers will go to the polls April 7.
Marois began her announcement by citing a long list of achievements her party has accomplished in the 18 months it has been in power, including the adoption of “severe laws against corruption,” creating “thousands” of day care spaces for children, “actively supporting” the economy, which includes $13.5 billion of investments, and creating jobs.
“There have never been more people in Quebec working than there are right now,” she said.
She also mentioned the budget, tabled at the end of February, and said the party has presented a realistic plan to create a more prosperous Quebec.
“We’ve proved ourselves, and we haven’t been afraid to make difficult, but necessary decisions,” she said.
She touted the party’s Charter of Values project as a defence of the province’s beliefs, and challenged voters to help them put their plan into action by removing those who oppose it from office.
Marois also went on the offence, saying she tried, but just can’t work with the opposition parties.
“The Liberals and the CAQists have only one goal, and that’s to block,” she said, adding that the opposition’s threats to block the PQ budget was the last straw.
Her ministers also said they faced a wall on many fronts.
“We are blocked on the language issue, we are blocked on the Charter issue on the health care issue, with the autonomy insurance,” said Health Minister Rejean Hebert.
Shortly after making the announcement, Marois visited the Alcoa aluminum plant near Quebec city, where local PQ candidate Hugues Genois, who is running in the Portneuf riding, got into the touchy issue of a referendum.
Genois admitted it’s not the first thing voters want to discuss.
“I’m a sovereignist when I need to be,” he said, adding that right now, his priority is jobs.
Liberals want to shift focus
Liberal leader Philippe Couillard says his party will focus during the campaign on the concerns of Quebecers, including health care, education and jobs.
“We have to say, and keep saying, to Quebecers that we are the only credible alternative to the PQ,” Couillard said Wednesday after Marois’s announcement, adding Quebecers “deserve much better.”
He said the damage from the PQ’s Charter proposal is already deep.
“It's irresponsible to have deliberately introduced division within the communities of Quebec. I cannot accept that,” he said. “We will correct that.”
He also added that it’s clear the PQ candidates are seeking a referendum in the next mandate.
“All the new candidates that came forward in recent days said that their prime motivation was the idea of ‘un pays.’” he said, adding that he also felt that the CAQ would only serve to split the vote.
“A vote for the CAQ is a vote for the PQ,” he said.
CAQ looks at economy
Coalition Avenir Quebec leader Francois Legault is accusing Marois of wanting to run her campaign on the PQ's controversial secularism charter.
He says the emphasis should be on the economy.
At his campaign kickoff Wednesday afternoon, Legault promised not to make promises to spend money Quebec doesn’t have, and criticized the PQ’s position on the Charter of Values.
“We think it’s exaggerated to say an office worker that doesn’t see any clients or patients can’t wear a small cross around their neck,” he said.
“We want to defend the Quebec identity with force, but also with intelligence.”
When asked about the similarities between the CAQ’s platform this time around and their inaugural platform, presented during the 2012 election, Legault said the key this election will be to get the message across to voters whose faith in politics has been shaken.
“Our main adversary is Quebecers’ cynicism,” he said.
The CAQ lost a candidate before the campaign was even an hour old.
Helene Daneault announced she wouldn’t be running again in the North Shore riding of Groulx.
Daneault, a doctor, stepped down for medical reasons, according to The Canadian Press.
She had previously signaled her intention to run again, but has since changed her mind.
Election unnecessary: Quebec solidaire
At a news conference in Montreal, Quebec solidaire spokesperson Francoise David chastised the PQ for running on what she referred to as a Liberal platform, saying the ruling party isn't focused enough on sovereignty.
“Do you want to be free and outside Canada? Or not? If people vote for Quebec solidaire we will do that in the first mandate,” said David.
Separation isn't their preoccupation going into this campaign, said David, adding that neither is the charter.
“In my riding this issue is not the main issue, in my riding the main issue is ecology, housing and the French language,” she said.
David’s riding of Gouin is largely Francophone. She handily beat the PQ with 46 per cent of the vote in 2012, and the small party is once again expected to be a thorn in the side of the PQ.
By the numbers
The PQ held 54 seats in the legislature, nine short of the majority-government benchmark of 63, before Wednesday’s election call.
Meanwhile, the Liberals had 49 ridings, the Coalition had 18, the left-leaning Quebec solidaire had two and two MNAs, including Fatima Houda-Pepin, who left the Liberal caucus over a disagreement on the Charter of Values, sat as Independents.
Houda-Pepin has confirmed she will run in the election as an independent.
Fight of their careers: analyst
Political analyst Jean Lapierre said this electoral campaign sees all three of the main leaders fighting for their political lives, 18 months after the last election.
"Mme. Marois, if she doesn't win a majority, she's history because the knives will be out. Mr. Legault is almost history, and he may even have problems in his own riding. Dr. Couillard has got to win. Liberals don't like losers. So the three of them are really playing for their whole career," he said.
Charbonneau Commission put on hold
Also announced Wednesday, the Charbonneau Commission is suspending its operations for the majority of the election campaign.
Next week will be the last week of testimony before the inquiry breaks until April 8.
A statement on the commission's website explained commissioners France Charbonneau, Roderick Macdonald and Renaud Lachance don't believe it to be "opportune" to hold hearings during the election.
"Since the inquiry on the awarding and management of public contracts in the construction industry is totally apolitical and independent, we do not want to risk that the hearings be dragged into the political arena," the statement reads.
-- With files from The Canadian Press