Marois sets rivals on heels in first debate
Charest attacked over jobs
MONTREAL—Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois promised change and a plan for independence as she assumed the role of a ready replacement for Jean Charest’s Liberal party in the first of four Quebec election debates.
“In 16 days we can finally put an end to the Liberal regime that has tarnished our name across the globe,” she said Sunday night as the province’s political leaders crossed swords in a Montreal television studio.
Marois cast Charest as the tired leader of a corrupt government and Coalition Avenir Québec’s François Legault, a former PQ minister who has renounced sovereignty, as the opportunistic bearer of undeliverable promises.
“I’m a woman of conviction who can change things,” Marois said. “We have to never abandon the fight, particularly with Ottawa in the picture. I will never let Stephen Harper make the decisions instead of me.”
The debate, which will be followed by three face-to-face match-ups between Monday and Wednesday, marks the beginning of a race to the finish line in the Sept. 4 vote. Marois aimed to cement her lead in opinion polls. Legault’s challenge was to sway undecided voters, and Charest’s challenge was to stop his support from sliding further.
The fourth leader, Québec Solidaire’s Françoise David, was there to bask in the high-profile event and hope to increase her party’s standings in the provincial legislature beyond the one seat it currently occupies. The best hope for David would be to win in her riding, which is currently held by the PQ.
After spending the first half of the campaign criss-crossing the province, the party caravans converged in Montreal to face the TV cameras. Charest entered the debate saying he expected to be the target of attacks. But he took a scrappy tone against Marois and Legault, questioning their records on the economy and health care while they were serving side by side in a former PQ regime.
“There’s one proven case of a government that closed its eyes (to corruption) and it’s the government of which Mrs. Marois and Mr. Legault were members,” Charest said in French, alluding to the findings of a 2006 inquiry that both the PQ and Liberals both received illegal political donations from an advertising firm but that the PQ knew about it and did nothing.
The most vitriolic exchanges Sunday night occurred between Marois and Legault, a former sovereigntist brother-in-arms.
Marois charged that the CAQ’s 94 election promises were an expensive exercise in “magical thinking.” Legault retorted that unlike the province’s “old parties” the CAQ is beholden to no one and has a free hand to change the way money is spent and services are delivered.
“The difference between you and me is that you have your hands attached to the unions,” Legault said, promising to take the money spent on bureaucratic programs and put in “into the hands of the middle class.”
At one point, Charest said: “My priority is the economy and jobs, and yours is a referendum.”
When the two-hour debate was over, the slings had been slung and the arrows had been fired, Québec Solidaire’s David brought a dose of political reality to the flurry of rhetoric.