Quebec Premier Jean Charest has confirmed that voters in his province will be heading to the polls on Sept. 4.

Charest visited the province's lieutenant-governor Wednesday morning to request a dissolution of the legislature and trigger the election. He then held a news conference in which he said that the key issue voters will have to decide on is whether they want the stability of his government, or the instability of sovereignty debates and street protests.

“We have heard from those who have been hitting away at pots and pans,” Charest told reporters. “Now is the time for the silent majority to speak.”

Ahead of the premier's election call, Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois held a news conference of her own and insisted that ethics will be the key issue in the campaign.

"We will put an end to the influence of money in politics," she told reporters in Quebec City. "As opposed to the Liberals, we have chosen honesty."

Marois dodged questions about whether she would hold a referendum on sovereignty should she become Quebec’s next premier, saying she has yet to make such a decision.

At his news conference, Charest accused Marois of wanting to hold a referendum “as soon as possible.”

Charest will be seeking his fourth term as premier but will face a tough battle in the wake of several scandals and still-unresolved student protests. And if the polls are to be believed, his Liberals will be entering the campaign as underdogs against the PQ.

Both parties will also be facing challenges from a new party, the Coalition for Quebec's Future, or the CAQ.

The party, which absorbed a number of members from the former Action democratique du Quebec and is helmed by former PQ cabinet minister François Legault, has attracted a lot of attention with its promise to bring together separatists and federalists by improving the economy.

“We’ll suggest solutions, concrete solutions because I’m a pragmatic guy,” Legault told reporters.

Charest touts economic plan

The premier indicated Wednesday he intends to campaign on plans to revive the economy, with the northern development of resources as the cornerstone of his platform.

In an interview with CTV Montreal, Charest said Quebecers “have a great opportunity” to enjoy further economic growth, in contrast to the sputtering economies of the United States and parts of Europe.

“The change I want to bring is change for example that would allow us to develop our economy with the Plan Nord,” Charest said. “With jobs in every region of Quebec, I’m thinking especially of Montreal.”

When asked whether he expects the upstart CAQ to siphon votes from his party, Charest said he expects “that there will be competition for votes, and that’s part of the democratic process.”

But he said for him, the election comes down to “what kind of society, community do we want to live in?”

Charest added: “This is a different campaign from others because this is a campaign that really speaks to why I’m in politics. I’m going to campaign for the things I believe in: the right of education, the right to live in a society where we respect each other.”

Protests could top agenda

Carleton University political scientist Bruce Hicks says student protesters could force their own issues to the top of the agenda as the campaign rolls on.

“The students who are on strike, they will be back on campus in mid-August, so they’ll be there for the last two weeks of the election. So we may see at the very end of the election, the student strikes becoming once again front and centre in electoral politics,” Hicks told CTV’s Canada AM Wednesday from Montreal.

McGill University political science associate professor Jacob Levy says Charest likely would have preferred to have held the election after the tuition hike issue had been resolved.

“With a September 4 election, there’s no chance of the student strike being settled before election day. And surely he would have liked to have gone to the polls with the strike already settled and resolved with a big win to his name. That can’t happen now,” Levy told CTV News Channel.

But Levy notes that a large corruption inquiry probing malfeasance in the construction industry is due to reconvene in mid-September and Charest likely didn’t want the findings of that inquiry dragged into the campaign.

As for the right-of-centre CAQ, Hicks says the party could emerge as the dark horse in the campaign.

“Right now, based on public opinion polls, they’re polling at about 25 per cent, though it’s unclear if that’s the percentage they’re going to get,” Hicks said.

“The party has claimed it will take independence and constitutional issues off the burner for 10 years to focus on the economy, which it hopes will endear itself to a certain segment of the population. But the fact that it’s led by a former PQ cabinet minister has Premier Charest questioning how legitimate their offer to keep independence off the agenda is.”

Hicks notes that the CAQ could siphon off significant votes from the Liberals, just as it did in a recent byelection in Argenteuil, in which the CAQ earned 3,00 voted and helped the PQ secure a victory in the longtime Charest stronghold.

“So if the party can have that sort of effect in a number of marginal ridings, it could decide the government in the election,” Hicks said.

“And if it takes enough seats itself, it can be the third-place party to decide which party will be in charge in a minority government, if no party gets a majority.”

With a report from CTV Montreal’s Tarah Schwartz