Separatist victory possible in Quebec election 0
Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois. (QMI Agency)
Quebecers could choose their first separatist government in 14 years on Tuesday, or they might roll the dice on a new centre-right party that promises cleaner, smaller government.
The most unpredictable election race in years will ultimately be decided in the 450 zone, a ring of bedroom communities surrounding the island of Montreal and its sprawling suburban cousin, Laval.
Polls indicate that the Parti Quebecois is in the lead in the 450 beltway of 2 million mainly francophone voters. The PQ could win a minority or a weak majority on Tuesday.
Any kind of separatist victory won't go over well on Bay Street or in the minds of federalists.
After years of stability, some English Quebecers are once again talking about leaving Quebec if the PQ wins, but the fact is that support for sovereignty has been static for decades.
Demographer Jack Jedwab tells QMI Agency that French voters aren't buying Premier Jean Charest's warning that a vote for the PQ is a vote for separation.
"For most francophones, a vote for the PQ is not a vote for a referendum," said Jedwab, executive director of the Montreal-based Association for Canadian Studies.
"A referendum (for some francophones) is something that is a separate matter that will be decided at a later date.
"For anglophones in Quebec, they don't buy the notion that these are two separate issues."
The 450 zone features a tight two-way race between the PQ and the upstart Coalition Avenir Quebec (Coalition for the future of Quebec), known as the CAQ. The Liberals, whose support is mainly centred in Montreal, are a distant third in the off-island suburbs.
Led by former PQ cabinet minister Francois Legault, the CAQ is less than a year old but has already emerged as a roadblock to the majority government that separatist leader Pauline Marois sorely desires.
That would explain why she has spent more time accusing Legault of being a traitor to the separatist cause than promoting the cause itself.
"He has become more federalist than all the federalists, more federalist than Mr. Charest," Marois told students at a community college east of Montreal on Thursday.
Then Marois added what, for her, is an insult.
"He defines himself as a Canadian," said the 63-year-old separatist. "He even shares the economic values and budget of Mr. Harper."
She was referring to the tax cuts and smaller government proposals championed by Legault, a millionaire who co-founded Air Transat in 1987.
The 55-year-old has pledged to cut 7,000 public service jobs in a province where big government has been inextricably linked with Quebec identity by the PQ and the Liberals for decades.
As for Marois' repeated attacks on Legault for changing his mind on sovereignty, he points out that he's no different from many other Quebecers who have shelved their separatist goals.
"I won't let Mrs. Marois define my love for of Quebec," he said. "She's trying to divide Quebecers and replay the old movie in which there are good and bad Quebecers."
Legault has dubbed Marois the "queen of the status quo" who isn't doing enough to pay down the debt and is obsessed with picking battles with Ottawa.
His critical stance against the separatists has stolen thunder from Charest, Canada's longest-serving premier who has run a solid campaign but might still have trouble holding onto his own seat.
A recent poll had him 15 points behind his PQ rival in Sherbrooke, in the Eastern Townships.
But Charest, 54, continues to tout his economic record while trying to persuade voters that the PQ has sided with rampaging student strikers while the CAQ is untested.
"People are talking about change, we see it, we know it very well," Charest said this week. "It's a good question. But change to go where? That's the real question."
Leader and party profiles
Jean Charest in a nutshell:
Born: June 24, 1958, in Sherbrooke, Que., in the Eastern Townships
Education: Law degree, University of Sherbrooke. Called to the bar in 1981.
Career achievements: Lawyer with Beauchemin, Dussault (1981-1984)
Political career: First elected as MP for Progressive Conservative Party of Canada in 1984. Held several cabinet posts under Prime Minister Brian Mulroney including youth, environment, industry and sports. Resigned as sports minister in 1990 amid influence scandal.
Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada from December 14, 1993, to April 30, 1998.
Elected leader of the Quebec Liberal Party in 1998.
Elected premier of Quebec on April 29, 2003. Won three straight elections.
Liberal Party of Quebec: Key Ideas
-- 250,000 new jobs by 2017 by exploiting natural resources, ensuring "adequate funding" for universities and encouraging innovation and exports
-- $50 million to promote cultural projects, particularly in rural areas
-- Doubling available tax credits for spouses and caregivers who care for seniors and the disabled
-- Five-year, $1.2-billion aid package for manufacturing companies
-- 11,500 new parking spaces at suburban public transit stations
-- Balanced budget by 2014, limiting program spending growth to 2% from 3%
-- An additional $150 million in annual mining royalties going to debt reduction
Campaign slogan: For Quebec
Pauline Marois in a nutshell:
Born: March 29, 1949, in Quebec City
Education: BA in social work, Laval University
Career achievements: Social worker and administrator in the early 1970s. Press attache in the first PQ government in the late 1970s. University professor during a brief retirement from politics in the 1980s.
Political career: First elected in 1981. Held major portfolios including health and education. Acclaimed as PQ leader in 2007.
Parti Quebecois: Key Ideas
-- Subsidized daycare spot for every child in in the province
-- Secularism charter that entrenches gender equity, the supremacy of French and a secular public service
-- Expanded language laws to make it harder for French children to attend English public schools
-- "Fight federal intrusions" into education, health and family policies
-- "Gain new powers" such as sole control over income tax collection
-- Promote sovereignty "in a continuous fashion"
Campaign slogan : A nous de choisir (It's our choice)
Francois Legault in a nutshell:
Born: May 26, 1957, in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, Que., on Montreal's west island.
Education: MBA, HEC Business School
Career achievements: Co-founded Air Transat from the ashes of Nationair in 1987. Air Transat became one of Canada's largest airlines. Earned millions when he sold his shares in 1997.
Political career: Elected to the Quebec legislature in his first campaign for the Parti Quebecois in 1998 under then-premier Lucien Bouchard. Held major portfolios including health, education and labour. Retired from politics in 2009 after six years in opposition.
Coalition Avenir Quebec: Key Ideas
-- No talk of sovereignty or the Constitution
-- Cut taxes by $1,000 per middle-class family
-- Cut 7,000 public-sector jobs through attrition; schools boards, regional health boards abolished
-- Reduce debt by $13.2 billion in first mandate
--Limit party donations to $100 per voter; $4 million campaign spending limit per party
--"Integrity Commissioner" to serve as permanent anti-corruption watchdog
-- Family doctors for all Quebecers
Campaign slogan : C'est Assez, Faut Que Ca Change (Enough, things have to change)