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Possible Separatist Victory as Quebec Polls Open

Polls opened in Quebec on Tuesday as voters decide whether to replace Jean Charest‘s embattled Liberals with the popular Parti Quebecois. An expected separatist party victory would reopen the debate on a quest for independence from Canada.

By News Wires (text)

France 24, September 4, 2012

AP -


Polls opened in Quebec on Tuesday as voters decide whether to replace Jean Charest‘s embattled Liberals with the popular Parti Quebecois. An expected separatist party victory would reopen the debate on a quest for independence from Canada.

Voters in Quebec weighed returning a separatist party to power as polls opened Tuesday in the French-speaking province, which could edge toward another referendum to break away from Canada if the Parti Quebecois ends nearly a decade of Liberal rule as expected.

Liberal leader Jean Charest, who has headed Quebec for nearly a decade, has consistently trailed in the polls to Pauline Marois’ Parti Quebecois since he called an early election on Aug. 1. But most polls indicate Marois - who could become the province’s first female premier - will not have enough votes to obtain a majority of the seats in the Quebec Assembly, undermining efforts to quickly hold a referendum on separation.

Quebec has held two referendums to split from Canada, in 1980 and 1995, the last narrowly rejecting independence.

Polls show there’s little appetite for a new referendum and Marois herself has left much uncertainty about if and when one would be held under a PQ government. A recent poll showed support for independence under 30 percent, but analysts say voters are weary of the Liberals after three terms in office.

Quebec voters became tired of the Liberal party after corruption allegations surfaced against the party and student protests erupted this spring, said Bruce Hicks, a political science professor at Concordia University in Montreal.

“Quebecers tend to tire of the government and throw them out,” he said.

“It’s sort of been the tradition in Quebec politics.”

Some 5.9 million people were registered to vote in some of the province’s 20,000 polling stations, but nearly a million of them had already done so in advance voting.

More autonomy for Quebec is high on the agenda for the PQ, which has said it would seek a transfer of powers from the federal government in areas like employment insurance and immigration policy. If those measures are rejected, the party believes it would have a stronger case for independence.

Visiting a candidate’s constituency office north of Montreal, a crucial battle zone, Charest said Tuesday that Quebec’s electors had to choose between “stability, jobs and the economy and those who would propose referendums and instability.”

The campaign has been a three-way race involving a new party, Coalition Avenir Quebec, headed by former PQ minister Francois Legault, who says the separation issue has paralyzed the province for far too long.

Entering his polling station to vote, Legault said he was confident of the day’s results. "This is a historic day, a new era is beginning," he said, adding it was time to "put aside disagreements on referendums and begin a new change, a clean-up and relaunch of Quebec."

Charest called the election more than a year before he had to, citing unrest in the streets due to this spring’s student protests over tuition hikes. The most sustained student protests ever to take place in Canada began in February, resulting in about 2,500 arrests.

Polls showed the Quebecois were more likely to side with the government on the need for a tuition hike, but they were divided on an emergency law brought in place to limit demonstrations. Politicians and rights groups have said the legislation restricts the right to demonstrate.

Education was hardly a major topic during the campaign. Charest sought to focus voters on the need to maintain a stable government promoting job creation during troubled global economic times, instead of electing separatists who would create uncertainty. He stressed his province has largely been spared the economic hardships seen elsewhere in the West.

Charest has notably touted a northern development plan, the Plan Nord, which his party says would see $80 billion in public and private investment over the next 25 years in areas such as mining and energy, creating thousands of jobs annually and benefiting the entire province.

But Marois says the companies doing business wouldn’t pay enough royalties. Legault said foreign companies mostly stood to benefit from the project.

Both PQ and the Liberals said they would make it harder for foreign companies to take over Canadian entities, an issue brought to the fore as North Carolina-based Lowe’s seeks to take over Quebec-based hardware chain Rona.

Critics say Charest called the snap vote to avoid any embarrassment from an ongoing corruption inquiry into the province’s construction industry, which is expected to resume after a summer break and has been largely overshadowed by the student protests.

But Hicks, the political scientist, still considers the election « up for grabs » considering the number of people who remain uncertain about how they will vote.

Two-thirds of Quebec voters want nothing to do with sovereignty, Hicks says. But even if it doesn’t come to a new referendum, the election of a PQ government would make for tense relations with the federal government and a conservative prime minister who has difficulty appealing to the Quebecois.

"At the very least the rhetoric is going to increase but I suspect tensions and conflict will rise as well," he says.

CANADA Embattled Quebec premier calls for snap elections

QUEBEC Talks over Quebec tuition crisis collapse

QUEBEC Student protesters present 'bottom-line' proposals

Date created : 04/09/2012


Quebec separatists set for election win

People cast their votes in Quebec, Canada, on September 4, 2012.

Voters in Quebec province cast ballots in elections expected to bring separatists to power, amid rising frustration with the current leadership and months of student protests. Coalition Avenir Quebec candidate Francois Legault (C) with his staff after voting in Quebec, Canada. Pauline Marois's PQ enjoys 33% support, putting it well ahead of Legault's upstart middle ground Coalition Avenir Quebec at 28%. Supporters of Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois cheer election results in Montreal on September 4. Pre-election polls point to the Parti Quebecois coming out on top -- though without a full majority.


Voters in Canada's Quebec province cast ballots in elections expected to bring separatists to power, amid rising frustration with the current leadership and months of student protests.

But the province's split from the rest of Canada is unlikely in the foreseeable future as most voters appear more intent on putting an end to nine years of Liberal rule than Quebec independence.

Nearly six million voters in the country's only majority French-speaking province were to choose 125 lawmakers on Tuesday. The outcome was expected to be known by day's end, after voting booths closed at 8:00 pm (0000 GMT Wednesday).

Voter turnout was strong and although the race was too close to call in about 40 electoral districts, pre-election polls point to the Parti Quebecois (PQ) coming out on top -- though without a full majority.

"I hope that we'll get rid of the old (Liberal) government, it's about time," said Daniel Peterkin as he headed to cast his ballot in Montreal.

Others expressed mixed feelings about the election outcome.

The PQ has been in the opposition benches in Quebec's National Assembly since its 2003 defeat by the Liberals, led by Jean Charest, who is only the second Quebec premier since the 1950s to have served three terms.

Pauline Marois's PQ enjoys 33 percent support, putting it well ahead of Francois Legault's upstart middle ground Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) at 28 percent, and the Liberals at 27 percent, according to a poll Sunday by Leger Marketing.

If those numbers hold true at the ballot boxes, Marois will become Quebec's first female leader, but her prospects of pushing through a referendum on independence for the province are slim.

Voters -- tired of the status quo after nearly a decade of Liberal rule marked by corruption scandals and recent nightly student protests over a planned tuition hike -- are seen to be looking for change.

In an odd twist, Canada's largest public sector union, The Public Service Alliance of Canada, endorsed the Parti Québécois, saying it best represents the interests of the union's 22,000 members who live and vote in the Quebec side of the capital region.

PSAC's regional executive vice president Larry Rousseau said the PQ was the most "progressive" party on the ballot, based on "their positions on workers' and citizens' rights, public services and unions." The Liberals ranked third.

Polls indicate the Parti Quebecois's support is as much anti-Charest as it is pro-independence.

The CAQ meanwhile surged into second place in pre-election polls, with a message of "change" and an end to the decades-old feuds between separatists and federalists.

In the final hours of a month-long campaign that saw leaders spar over jobs and the economy, healthcare and other social matters, Charest was still struggling to court voters by fanning fears of independence.

The premier may have triggered the election to put down the student unrest and avoid the scrutiny of a commission of inquiry into accusations of political corruption linked to the construction industry.

But his main call to arms has been to stop the separatists' rise.

The separatists aim "to pick fights... to demonstrate that it is necessary to hold a referendum as soon as possible to separate Quebec from the rest of Canada," Charest warned Monday.

Charest said a renewed push for independence would create economic uncertainty, scare away investment in the province as it seeks to develop its rich resources in the vast north, and could even lead the National Hockey League to reject a proposal for a team in Quebec City.

Quebec twice rejected independence in 1980 and 1995 but the federalists only narrowly won the last referendum.

Marois, however, has said she will only hold a third referendum on independence if a win is assured, which is unlikely, given that barely one in three Quebecers currently support secession.

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