MONTREAL—With the Charbonneau commission hanging in the background, Quebec’s ongoing struggle with corruption has been one of the defining themes of the province’s 2012 election campaign.

With former corruption czar Jacques Duchesneau’s decision to join the upstart Coalition Avenir Quebec, the war of words over corruption has at times boiled over.

In the first of three debates hosted by CTV Montreal, host Paul Karwatsky joined Duchesneau, the Parti Quebecois’ Bernard Drainville and Liberal MNA Yolande James to discuss corruption on Aug. 16.

Combative and cagey, Family Minister James came to the defence of his government’s record fighting corruption.

“I’m not a school teacher, the ultimate grade we will have is on Sept. 4,” said James, responding to questions about Premier Jean Charest giving himself and eight on 10 for corruption-busting. “If you want to combat corruption, you need to do a lot of actions that will have results.”

Former crime fighter Duchesneau started a public fight with Charest when he gave the government two on 10.

“And I was generous. New bills are not the issue,” said Duchesneau, who’s party plans on creating an ethics commissioner. “A new bureaucracy is a not a solution. You want results? We had results. We kept an eye on contractors and we saved over $300 million in a few months.”

As the head of province’s anti-corruption unit, Duchesneau led the early fight against corruption in the construction industry.

Leading in the polls, the Parti Quebecois has largely stayed away from the slagging between the CAQ and Charest, preferring to point its finger at a number of corruption scandals that broke during the past three terms the Liberals have run Quebec City.

“We have yet to hear a statement from any Liberal minister that what happened [with corruption] was wrong,” said Drainville, the former journalist who is the PQ’s critic on intergovernmental affairs. “Too many words, too few actions.”

Watch the full debate in the video above.