All eyes were on Liberal leader Philippe Couillard Tuesday as he made his return to the legislature in the National Assembly.

The former health minister, who won a byelection in December in the Montreal riding of Outremont, stepped into the National Assembly to the sound of applause from all sides of the house. Despite the warm welcome and Couillard’s own promise to keep debate respectful, it quickly turned to confrontation.

“Yes or no, will you have a budget before calling an election?” he asked Marois during question period.

Marois replied that the election speculation is nothing but that – speculation.

“I have not announced elections,” she said. “There are no elections that are planned in the coming days.”

Marois then turned the subject to the Liberals’ economic record.

“They got it wrong, year after year,” she said, in what may be a preview of an election campaign.

“Tax and fee hikes are what Liberal governments do,” she said.

“He used to say he wanted a zero deficit this year. A few weeks back, it was in three years,” added Jean-Francois Lisee, minister for the Montreal region.

Couillard hit back, saying it’s the PQ that needs to come clear on its numbers.

“She has to - she must - table a budget before she calls an election,” he said, adding that it would be disrespectful to Quebecers if they did not do so.

Couillard also forgave one of his own MNAs, Verdun’s Henri-Francois Gautrin, who told the Canadian Press Monday the PQ would win the next election if it were held this spring.

Gautrin said he expected the Coalition Avenir Quebec would lose support to the PQ, with voters being more concerned about identity than the economy.

Later in the day, Gautrin issued a statement saying he is certain Quebecers will be concerned with jobs and the economy, and so elect a Liberal majority government, with Couillard as premier.

“For me it’s a closed issue,” said Couillard, adding that Gautrin did not rain on his parade. “My parade, or our parade, takes us to victory.”

If speculation is to be believed, Marois will call an election one month from now.