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August 24, 2012

Stakes are high in upcoming Quebec election

Next time you read this column, Quebec voters will have elected a new government, and, quite possibly, launched the province — and the rest of Canada — on an adventure into uncertainty.

Polls and conventional wisdom suggest the vote on Sept. 4 could produce several results, ranging from a secessionist Parti Quebecois government to the re-election of Premier Jean Charest’s Liberals to the election of a brand-new right-leaning party.

This week featured a series of four debates between the main party leaders: Charest, the Parti Quebecois’s Pauline Marois and Francois Legault, a former Parti Quebecois minister and founder of the Coalition Avenir Quebec (see my Nov. 18, 2011, column for more background on Legault).

How voters rate the performance of leaders in those showdowns could set the tone for the remaining 10 days of the campaign. Going into the debates the Parti Quebecois had a modest lead on the Liberals with the Coalition gaining ground, mostly at the expense of the governing party.

But a poll published mid-week shows Charest may have earned a bit of a bounce. So it could be that the famously resilient and experienced Charest is running out of political lives, and one gets from his increasing intensity in the latter half of the campaign he plans to go out swinging.

The threat of a Parti Quebecois government has stirred more than the usual interest in a Quebec election in the rest of the country. Canadians had become quite accustomed, indeed seem to have taken for granted, having Charest, a passionate federalist, in charge of the historically restless province.

But Charest, still the youngest of his rival leaders at 54, has been premier for nine years. His party has been buffeted by allegations of corruption in Quebec’s construction industry and has set up a public inquiry to examine them. Since March, he and his government have also had to contend with an often violent student uprising, provoked by an increase in university tuition fees.

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