Leaders lock horns in passionate election debate
Published Thursday, March 27, 2014 8:26PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, March 28, 2014 9:49AM EDT
The four major party leaders - Philippe Couillard, Francoise David, Francois Legault and Pauline Marois - went to battle for the second time Thursday in a debate which saw its most heated moments take place in discussions over a referendum and the charter of values.
The debate also saw Liberal leader Philippe Couillard make a passionate plea in favour of bilingualism, a stance which the other leaders were quick to denounce.
Some minor drama preceded the eight p.m. kickoff of the second French language political debate, as PQ leader Pauline Marois released partial tax records about 10 minutes before the debate began. The document posted on the PQ website is entitled "summary of the federal declaration 2012." It lists her total income as $160,733.
There was no word on the document, however, about her overall assets or any mention of her husband Claude Blanchet's finances. His activities have been scrutinized following comments made by union leaders at the Charbonneau Commission.
PQ Minister Bernard Drainville foreshadowed the announcement just minutes earlier in a separate TV interview by advising Quebecers to be patient for Marois' financial disclosures.
Marois has been under fire after being the only major party leader to refuse to provide such documents.
The two hour debate was organized into three topics, social politics and governing, economy and public finances, Identity and the national question.
It began with a pair of calm discussions, first between CAQ Francois Legault and Liberal leader Philippe Couillard and then a separate but equally civilized debate between Marois and Francoise David of the Quebec Solidaire Party.
Couillard under fire
The debate heated up considerably at about 20 minutes in when the moderator asked Marois and Couillard about integrity issues.
“I don’t accept comparisons between the PQ and the Liberals. They were raided by the UPAC and we only received a request to meet,” said Marois in one heated moment. “As for that question of the famous investment by my husband, there was no deal.”
Couillard replied that, “The Charbonneau Commission was created by the Liberal Party as were the police investigations, they’re doing their work. We can’t presume the guilt of others. Let everybody do their work and come to their conclusions, I find you’re jumping to conclusions.”
Couillard accused Marois of assuming guilt by association.
Francois Legault then went on the attack in a similar manner against the beleagured Couillard, then Francoise David took her turn to ask him about his work overseas in Saudi Arabia, as Couillard struggled to fend off attacks from all sides.
Legault attacks PQ on cronyism
Another fiery head-to-head debate ensued, as Legault attacked Marois for cronyism, claiming that she made “40 to 50” major appointments to friends of the party, including failed PQ candidate Nicolas Girard who was put in charge of 400 employees at the Agence Metropolitain de Transport (AMT).
“You named him to manage a 400-employee organization with billions of dollars in budget. What are his qualifications?” asked Legault. “He never managed more than one employee in his life.”
Legault also pressured Marois to make such important appointments subject to approval by an all party parliamentary committee.
Marois defended her appointment of Girard and said that she’d be open to considering such a nomination process.
Couillard spoke out against Legault's suggestion, noting that such committees exist in the U.S.A. and often turn into “witch hunts.”
Marois and Couillard then debate job creation in a relatively civil debate. Couillard repeated his promise to create 250,000 jobs by making it easier for small and medium sized businesses to thrive.
Marois said that the PQ would push for the electrification of transportation, which she said would create 1,000 exporting companies.
Couillard bemoaned that the private sector job creation stats have been discouraging, as Quebec, unlike other provinces, has seen little growth in private sector hiring.
Couillard then defended an attack by Legault that his party's Maritime strategy is a copy of a CAQ policy.
QS leader Françoise David then took aim at the Liberals’ Northern Plan but Couillard politely defended it as something more environmentally friendly than what she described.
Marois jumped into to add that the PQ changed policy to raise government revenue on mining. But Couillard said that the PQ’s failure to advance with the Northern Plan led many to lay people off, something Marois hotly denied.
Legault then was asked about his plan to abolish school boards. Legault said that the total 4,500 employees that would lose their jobs would be halved by attrition and the rest would be given jobs elsewhere.
Couillard opposed the plan to abolish school commissions, "There’s a lot of fear about losing the boards, especially in small rural places. It means that the government would have to deal with transport and school buses, hire educational experts, it would only increase bureaucracy," said Couillard.
Zero jobs created
The next exchange between Legault and Marois created some sparks, as the CAQ leader went after Marois, dramatically accusing her of creating “zero jobs.”
Legault, speaking more passionately than the others, explained his plan to decrease the bureaucracy through attrition and slash government subsidies to foreign multimedia companies. “We can’t just give $20 billion in subsidies to foreign companies to take Quebec jobs,” he said.
Marois defended the subsidies, saying that Montreal is among the three top world capitals for special effects.
“The only one who created a business is me,” Legault told Marois. “I founded Air TransAt. I’m a businessman, the economy is a passion for me, it’s not a part time thing like you. If I take your seat tomorrow I’ll create jobs and attract investment.”
Referendum and independence
Talk of a referendum ensued, leading to some predictable disputes, as Marois repeated her mantra that there would not be any referendum “as long as Quebecers do not want one.”
Couillard laughed aloud at her declaration.
“We must remind the population that article one of the PQ is Quebec independence. She said that we want a country and Pierre Karl Peladeau said the same thing spectacularly,” said Couillard. “You’re in a rush to hold a referendum. People want investment in health and education, not that. They don’t want that, they want jobs.”
David then attacked Marois from the other side. “I don’t have the impression you want a referendum. And my problem is that you don’t talk about a country – you’re not making Quebecers dream about a country.”
The equally-divisive charter of values issue then became the focus of the four leaders, as Legault attacked Couillard for not defending French or the Quebec identity.
Leagult then attempted repeatedly to get the Liberal leader to state whether or not he’d agree that a police officer could wear religious symbols, a question Couillard repeatedly brushed off.
“You said you’re a entrepreneur,” Couillard said to Legault. “You deal with real problems. There is no police officer like that.”
Couillard and Legault both accused Marois of stretching the charter issue out when all sides could have agreed to some sort of lesser measures that all parties could agree with.
Legault hiked the pressure on Marois, saying that his party’s version of a charter had the support of Jacques Parizeau, Gilles Duceppe and Lucien Bouchard, but Marois replied that most Quebecers agreed with the PQ version.
Couillard praises bilingualism
Couillard then spoke out in favour of teaching English and the importance of bilingualism in the workplace.
"Bilingualism isn't a threat, it's an asset," said Couillard, a comment which later led Marois to say that his ideas "shocked her," as Legault nodded in agreement with Marois' dim view.
"I've never seen a Liberal leader show so little concern for the French language," said Legault.
"It's catastrophic," said Marois.
Couillard said that "We must teach French and give each Quebec child to at least be bilingual. We want to start teaching English in the sixth grade."