As Quebec election rhetoric heats up, Charest brings hockey into debate
Published Sunday, September 2, 2012 11:43AM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, September 2, 2012 11:17PM EDT
Election candidates in Quebec are entering the final stretch of the campaign by ramping up the aggressive rhetoric against their ideological opponents.
Two of those hopefuls – Quebec Premier Jean Charest and Francois Legault of the Coalition for Quebec's Future -- have taken to raising the spectre of another sovereignty referendum.
Legault said Saturday that voting for another party would result in the pro-sovereignty Parti Quebecois taking power. Charest, in the meantime, argued that a referendum would be all but inevitable if the Parti Quebecois or CAQ won the election.
Charest also took a new approach Sunday, warning that a PQ government could hurt the chances of bringing back the province’s beloved hockey team, the Nordiques. The franchise relocated to Denver in 1995 and Charest’s government has pledged millions towards a new arena in Quebec City, aimed at luring an NHL team.
Charest suggested that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman would be less likely to put a team in Quebec City with the sovereigntist party in power.
"If I put myself in Mr. Bettman's place, a city where there's full employment means there will be people who will go watch hockey and have the money to go watch hockey," Charest said at a news conference.
With Quebec voters poised to head to the polls in just two days, candidates are taking aim at key rivals. Recent polls suggest that the PQ sit ahead of the Coalition and Charest’s Liberals, putting them on the defence as the campaign nears its end.
Legault, a former sovereigntist himself, continues to reiterate his pledge to bridge the gap between separatists and federalists and unite Quebecers behind the economy.
“Do away with our traditional line of divide. Do away with the constant madness of a referendum,” he told reporters on Saturday.
His platform has earned him an editorial endorsement from English-language paper the Montreal Gazette, which has positioned his party as the only option on the ballot able to ward off the prospect of a PQ government.
PQ leader Pauline Marois continues to lead a spirited but divisive campaign, vowing stricter enforcement of the province’s language laws if her party is elected.
“I think our responsibility is to be sure that we will continue to speak French here, to work in French, to create richness in French,” she said Saturday.
Part of her plan is to deploy more language inspectors and update Bill 101 to disallow companies from operating in English. Marois has also proposed compulsory attendance at French-language CEGEPs (the province’s junior colleges) for immigrants and francophones.
But when it comes to the contentious issue of independence, Marois has made it clear she doesn’t intend to rush into a referendum -- at least not right away.
Eric Grenier, who runs the political blog ThreeHundredEight.com, says polls show support for Quebec independence is below 30 to 40 per cent. Given the cool feedback, he said a sudden sovereignty referendum would be unlikely.
“The PQ has said they’re not intending to hold a referendum until they think they can win one,” Grenier told CTV News Channel on Sunday.
But that hasn’t deterred the Liberals from characterizing their party as the only refuge from the prospect of an independence debate. Charest has tried to chip away at Legault’s support by pointing out that, unlike the Coalition leader, he has been a federalist all along.
The stakes are high for Charest who, if he isn’t elected, faces the prospect of stepping down after nine years in power.
Whatever the outcome, a power-sharing government appears unlikely.
“Considering how tense and sometimes ugly the campaign has been, it’s hard to imagine any of these parties working together,” said Grenier.
With a report from CTV News' Montreal Bureau Chief Genevieve Beauchemin and files from The Canadian Press