Monday, August 20, 2012

Jean Charest fights back in Quebec election debates

Down in the polls, Quebec Premier Jean Charest came out swinging in the leaders' debate last night. He claimed that the PQ (Parti Quebecois) main objective was to separate from Canada,. He also pointed out that a past PQ government was corrupt.
Charest took an aggressive stance against his opponents. A skilled debater, Charest tried to neutralize constant attacks upon his own government for corruption by pointing out that in 2006 a report found that the PQ had acted illegally in its financing activities. Charest's Liberal government is plagued by corruption charges especially in the Quebec construction industry. Charest also pressed hard on the sovereignty issue trying to portray the PQ and leader Pauline Marois as wanting to hold a referendum on sovereignty as quickly as she can. The PQ is leading at present in the polls.
Ironically Marois tried to steer clear of the sovereignty issue. She was criticized not just by Charest but by another separatist party the left-leaning Quebec Francoise David:
“What I can’t understand is why you can’t clearly commit to a public consultation to define how you plan on achieving sovereignty,."
Marois no doubt realizes that there is more concern with jobs and the economy of Quebec among voters than independence for the province. She is not anxious to hold a referendum that she could very well lose.
While Jean Charest predicted he would be the target of all the opposition parties he shared that status with the Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The PQ leader in particular promised that she would stand up for Quebec against the federal government and gain more power for Quebec. Marois chastised both the leader of the CAQ and Charest
:“I won’t get on my knees like Mr. Charest has done and abandon the fight against Ottawa as [Coalition Avenir Québec Leader François] Legault has done..I will fight for the interests of Quebec.”
The PQ promises that it will seek transfer of more powers from the federal government to the province if elected. The party wants power to regulate immigration as well as unemployment insurance. If the federal government refuses to transfer the powers the PQ will use this as an argument that Quebec should become independent.
Charest faces not just his usual rival the PQ this election but also the Coalition Avenir Quebec a party that trails the Liberals only slightly in the polls. The party is led by a former PQ cabinet minister Francois Legault. The party is regarded by many as an alternative to the two old line parties who many see as corrupt. The Liberals appear to be losing votes to the party among non-francophone voters. This could create problems for Charest and help the PQ win. However Legault lacks charisma and some thought he would not do too well in the debates.
Legault however seemed to hold his own in the debate. He made cogent points against Charest's economic record pointing out that during Charest's tenure Quebec disposable income per person went from fourth place to ninth place with only the tiny province of Prince Edward Island being lower. Charest has been touting his economic record as a reason to re-elect him. Charest in the exchange was able to catch Legault off guard when he asked if Quebeckers were richer today than when Legault's former party was in power. Legault admitted that they were. Even though this is hardly relevant since Legault is not part of the PQ now it no doubt may have helped Charest fend off the attack.
Almost twenty per cent of voters are undecided. Three parties remain relatively close in the polls although the PQ has a definite lead. There will be three more debates with one on one debates with leaders. Quebec Solidaire with just one seat in the legislature will not be in those debates.

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