Quebec political party leaders make push for votes in waning election campaign

Pauline Marois made a last-ditch appeal to supporters on Sunday to get out and vote for her Parti Quebecois on election day, ruling out any kind of deals with the Coalition party to shore up her party if it wins another minority government.

"I want to obtain the confidence of Quebecers," she said when the possibility was raised in a campaign swing through the Quebec City region. "I am asking for their confidence."

Marois and Quebec's other political leaders were in their final sprint to round up support in what appears to be a tight race to victory in Monday's election.

Opinion polls indicate Philippe Couillard's Liberals are in the lead so all leaders know every vote counts.

Marois suggested during a campaign stop that no one is better than the PQ at getting out the vote. She said there isn't as much activism in the other parties — not that there's anything wrong with that.

"But we know activism in the Parti Quebecois, which is driven by our commitment to Quebec and means that we are ready to put in more time," she told her troops.

She insisted that she is optimistic about Monday's results despite what recent polls have indicated.

"My instincts tell me that on Monday night, we're going to be very happy," she said. "Things are telling me that we're going to elect a Parti Quebecois government."

Victory would be sweet for Marois considering how the PQ's campaign went off the rails almost from the day it started on March 5.

The PQ had been considered a sure bet to upgrade their minority government status to a majority, coasting to victory using their popular — albeit controversial — secularism charter, which was to be the party's No. 1 priority in the campaign.

That all changed within days, when star candidate Pierre Karl Peladeau announced his candidacy with a fist-pumping declaration that he wanted an independent Quebec for his children.

After that, the secularism charter and pretty much everything else was shoved into the background as Marois was put on the defensive over her desire to hold a sovereignty referendum if elected premier.

Although she mused for a few days what an independent Quebec would be like, Marois insisted there would be no referendum until Quebecers were ready. That seemed to fall on deaf ears.

Attempts to shift the debate floundered until the last two weeks when the Liberals had already started to gain momentum and the PQ had some success putting the focus on ethics and secularism.

But even that backfired to a degree as questions were raised about alleged fundraising activities by Marois's husband. He and Marois have denied any wrongdoing.

And Marois was put on the defensive again after one of her candidates said public servants who disobeyed the secularism charter would be fired.

The PQ leader said she hoped it would not come to that and that efforts would be made to help the employees find other jobs in the private sector. The charter would prohibit public sector workers from wearing such religious garb as kippas and hijabs on the job.

For his part, Couillard flew to Quebec's remote regions to promote his message on Sunday, undertaking a marathon that took him to the Gaspe, then the North Shore area and his Roberval riding where he will spend election day.

He said a government led by him would promote wind power and tourism and address many issues that concern the regions, such as better roads and health care.

One person who had genuine reason for glee on Sunday was Coalition party Leader Francois Legault, who had seen support steadily slumping in the polls until recently when there was a significant rebound.

Poll numbers, including one released on Saturday, indicate support for the Coalition is now is just shy of where it was in the 2012 election when the fledgling party picked up 19 seats in the 125-seat legislature.

"It's true there were some difficult moments at the start," he said in Montreal. "It was almost a referendum election."

Legault said he focused on issues that interested voters while his opponents concentrated on whether or not there would be a sovereignty referendum in the future.

He said he believes his strategy will pay off on election day with voters choosing his third option instead of the PQ and Liberals as they have always done.

"You need courage for change but I think we have to have courage in Quebec," he said.

— With files from Canadian Press reporters Alexandre Robillard in Quebec City and Melanie Marquis in Montreal

Photo: Clement Allard/THE CANADIAN PRESS

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