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Embattled Quebec premier calls for snap elections
Faced with student strikes and corruption allegations, Quebec Premier Jean Charest called on Wednesday for snap elections, pitting his federalist party against Parti Quebecois separatists. A win would give him a fourth consecutive mandate.
AFP - Quebec's embattled premier called snap elections on Wednesday, pitting the ruling federalists against separatists in Canada's mostly French-speaking province.
"The premier of Quebec, Jean Charest, will go to the office of the lieutenant-governor today to seek the dissolution of the national assembly and the holding of a general election," his office said in a statement.
No date was announced after Charest left the meeting with the lieutenant-governor, but September 4 has been widely touted as the probable polling day in Canadian media reports. A press conference was expected later.
Charest, an ardent federalist, has been in power since 2003, and received his third mandate in late 2008. Only one other Quebec premier, Maurice Duplessis, had previously won more than two terms in office.
But Charest's Liberals face a stiff challenge from the separatist Parti Quebecois, as well as allegations of corruption, and social unrest with daily demonstrations by students and others for months.
An upstart third party, the Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ), could also trigger tight three-way races in several electoral districts.
A Leger Marketing poll published on Wednesday in the French-language daily Journal de Montreal placed the Parti Quebecois slightly ahead out of the gate, with the support of 33 percent of 1,648 respondents, while 31 percent said they would back Charest's party in its bid for a fourth mandate.
The CAQ led by former Parti Quebecois minister Francois Legault trailed behind the two historically dominant parties with 21 percent support.
On the top of voters' minds, according to the survey, are healthcare, lower taxes and alleged construction industry corruption. Sovereignty fell well behind in the list of issues that respondents felt needed to be addressed.
But it is on the minds of the party leaders.
The death of Duplessis in 1959 ushered in a period of intense changes in the province and the first stirrings of a Quebec nationalism that persists today.
Quebec twice rejected independence from the rest of Canada in referendums in 1980 and 1995, but the last time did so by a narrow margin.
This week Charest slammed the Party Quebecois for planning, if it wins the election, to try to wrest new powers from Ottawa and use any failure to bolster its separatist agenda.
"What is essentially their strategy? Cultivate fights with Ottawa and the rest of Canada to promote a referendum," Charest told reporters.
He also sought to lump the CAQ in with the Parti Quebecois and present his Liberals as the only federalist option on the ballot by noting that, even if the CAQ has attracted disenchanted federalists, its leader Francois Legault is a hardcore separatist.
"I challenge anyone to find Legault saying 'I'm a federalist,'" Charest said. "I don't think that will happen, he is a sovereignist."
On the eve of the election call, PQ leader Pauline Marois, meanwhile, hailed the four bronze medals won by Quebec athletes so far at the London Olympics as proof that an independent Quebec would be a success.
She called the medal haul "another example of how Quebec could certainly shine among the brightest."
"As an independent country, we could continue to win our medals, I'm convinced of that," she said.