Community service from Charest, transit promises from Marois as leaders clash
Published Wednesday, August 15, 2012 3:11PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, August 15, 2012 8:39PM EDT
MONTREAL—The fatigue started to show on Wednesday as Quebec’s political leaders traded heavy barbs on the campaign trail.
Premier Jean Charest was in his home riding of Sherbrooke, fending off a strong challenge from the Parti Quebecois and announcing plans to expand entrepreneurship courses in high schools, and to make 10 hours of community service mandatory in Secondary 5.
Charest’s announcement was seen as a response from a controversial comment from Coalition Avenir Quebec leader Francois Legault that French-Canadian teenagers should adopt an “Asian” work ethic.
Despite his announcements, Charest spent a lot of time fielding questions about the possibility he'll lose the riding he's held for so long.
Recent polls show that the premier is facing an up to 15 point deficit over PQ rival Serge Cardin, a former Bloc MP who represented the riding in Ottawa. Former justice minister Marc Bellemare, a constant thorn for Charest, has announced that he might join the fray and face off against his political foe.
“I grew up here, this is my community and I grew up with the men and women of this community,” said a defiant Charest. “In each election campaign we have seen polls that have said that I would be apparently defeated in Sherbrooke, well, what’s new?
“I’m getting the same questions that I get during each election campaign frankly, and on the fourth of September I’m confident on the result in Sherbrooke.”
Hitting the vote-rich hustings in the 450 area code north of Montreal, PQ leader Pauline Marois said she was confident in her candidate’s ability to unseat Charest. As for Cardin, he said he is worried that Bellemare could split the vote and allow Charest to win.
Marois had to face her own criticism as she fielded questions about her controversial proposal to create a Quebec Charter of Secularism that would ban all religious symbols in the public service—except for the crucifix in the National Assembly.
Stating that her intentions were clear, Marois was critical of the Liberal-appointed Bouchard-Taylor commission on reasonable accommodations. The PQ leader criticized the commission’s findings and the lack of a clear road map to help the province move beyond cultural uncertainty.
Unlike the two-man commission that released a report in 2008, Marois’ called for a parliamentary commission to reopen the debate and write a new charter for Quebec.
When asked about the effect her plans would have on the hijab and its current protection under the federal Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Marois implied that a provincial secularism charter would take precedence.
“I think it is better to know that for the respect of each other and for the choice of Quebecers when they decide to come to live here, they will know exactly what the obligations are for these new Quebecers,” said Marois.
The head of the opposition was in Montreal’s commuter suburbs to pledge a vast reinvestment in public transit in the metropolis. If elected, the PQ would contribute $10 billion to fund electric trains and buses, her party would also complete the Blue line of the Montreal metro towards Anjou by 2020 and add 300 kilometres of new transit lanes to the island’s roads.
Marois also promised to get the much-delayed Train de l’Est running within two years, despite the massive cost overruns that have crippled the project.