We can now stop saying a Quebec election is "widely expected" to be called for April 7.
This morning, premier Pauline Marois called it for April 7, kicking off a 33-day campaign she hopes will bring her party a long sought-after majority government.
In calling the election, Marois, surrounded by her cabinet, read out a list of what she described as her government's accomplishments during her minority mandate, saying the government has passed "severe" measures to fight corruption. She also says she has controlled spending, created daycare spaces, and brought in a "responsible" budget she says the opposition fully intends to block.
She also promoted the Parti Québécois' controversial secularism charter.
Recent polls suggest the PQ will win at least a slim majority government, with the Liberals trailing close behind and the CAQ falling behind their score of two years ago.
CJAD's Tina Tenneriello spoke with voters in Montreal's Plateau Mont-Royal.
Liberal leader Philippe Couillard says his party will focus during the campaign on the concerns of Quebecers, including health care, education and jobs.
CAQ leader Francois Legault is accusing Marois of wanting to run her campaign on the charter.
He says the emphasis should be on the economy.
The PQ's opponents have accused it of mismanaging the economy and say Quebec is living beyond its means.
Her foes were already warming up the campaign trail Tuesday, criticizing the PQ's record and practising their pitches to voters.
Liberals want to focus on 'real issues'
Couillard said his party, unlike the governing PQ, will focus on what he calls the true concerns of Quebecers: education, health, jobs and the economy.
Couillard, who replaced Jean Charest as Liberal leader last year, reiterated his dislike for the Marois government's controversial-yet-popular secularism charter, describing it as a plan that divides Quebecers.
Polls, however, have suggested the values charter has been a boon to Marois' government, which appears to be within reach of a majority mandate.
The PQ holds 54 seats in the National Assembly, nine short of the majority-government benchmark of 63.
Meanwhile, the Liberals have 49 ridings, the CAQ has 18, the left-leaning Quebec Solidaire has two and two MNAs sit as Independents.
Charter key to PQ's campaign
Marois made it clear Tuesday night the charter of values will be key to her campaign.
"We will adopt a charter that affirms the Quebec values of equality between men and women,'' Marois said at a nomination meeting in Quebec City. "We will do it.''
The PQ secularism project would ban public employees from wearing ostentatious religious symbols, like the Muslim veil, at work.
Supporters of the proposal call it a tool to limit gender discrimination and to shield the province from what has been described as encroaching fundamentalism. Opponents have painted it as a political ploy that shifts attention away from more pressing matters, like the economy.
Even though he agrees with part of the charter, Legault accused Marois on Tuesday of planning to run her whole campaign on the document alone.
He said he would support a watered-down version of the PQ proposal, one that would only place the restrictions on public workers in authority positions, such as teachers, police officer and judges.
But above all, Legault said the government should stay focused on kick-starting the Quebec economy.
"Right now, Quebec is living beyond its means,'' Legault told reporters.
"Therefore we're in a situation that if we don't change our direction...we will hit the wall.''
The PQ has taken steps to dull these kinds of attacks from opponents, who have repeatedly accused the party of mismanaging the economy.
The Marois government made a series of multimillion-dollar public investments in recent months, including cash for a new cement plant in the Gaspe region and an oil-exploration project on Anticosti Island.
Last month, Marois' team also presented what it called a "responsible'' budget filled with figures it says point to the PQ's economic accomplishments since coming to power.
The document, which would not go to vote if an election were called this week, projected a $1.75-billion shortfall in 2014-15, a prediction that backed away from an earlier PQ promise to balance the books in 2013-14.
The party's zero-deficit target has now been put off until 2015-16, a change that prompted Fitch Ratings to downgrade Quebec's outlook in December to negative from stable.
PQ majority would lead to referendum: Couillard
In recent weeks, Couillard has repeated a warning to the electorate that electing the PQ to a majority mandate would give Marois a green light to call a referendum on Quebec independence.
Marois, however, has so far refused to commit herself to holding a referendum if she wins a majority, and has said such a vote must happen at the appropriate moment.
Instead, she has promised to present a "white paper'' on the province's future, a document that would consult Quebecers on the merits of holding another vote on sovereignty. The province voted against sovereignty in two referendums: 1980 and 1995.