Jean Charest's scandal-plagued Liberal government has survived a no-confidence vote, but not before facing a barrage of opposition attacks against the Premier's personal integrity.
"I've had it with a Premier that won't listen to Quebeckers," Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois said during the debate in the National Assembly before Wednesday's vote. "The Premier is responsible for the crisis that weakens our institutions ... for the climate of suspicion in which we are living. He complains that the affair has taken a personal twist. That's because he's the problem."
The opposition lost the vote on a motion to defeat the government 61-57. After failing to topple the government, Ms. Marois continued her attacks.
"He is the worst Premier I've seen in 30 years," she said at a news conference, adding that more than 230,000 people have signed a petition on the National Assembly website calling for Mr. Charest's resignation.
During a passionate debate on the no-confidence motion, the opposition decried Mr. Charest's refusal to call a public inquiry into allegations of corruption that have shaken the Liberal government for more than a year.
Ms. Marois led the charge by pointing to the resignation of two ministers, a probe into allegations of influence peddling by Liberal fundraisers in the nomination of judges and reports of Mafia infiltration in the construction industry. There are also allegations of favouritism and bid-rigging in the awarding of lucrative government contracts, and charges that municipal politicians offered illegal cash donations to the campaigns of provincial candidates.
"Since he [Mr. Charest]refuses to hold a public inquiry, he has only one thing to do and that is to step down or hold an election as soon as possible," Ms. Marois said to long applause from PQ members of the National Assembly.
In making his case against the motion, Mr. Charest promised permanent means of controlling and supervising the construction industry after a special police anti-corruption squad completes its investigation.
"We need more than just a shake-up, we need sweeping changes," he said.
Mr. Charest gave no details on what measures would be adopted to rid the construction industry of organized crime. He also remained silent on whether his government intends to comply with opposition parties' requests to examine whether there is a connection between alleged collusion in the awarding of government contracts and the financing of political parties.
While the Liberal government was expected to defeat the PQ motion, it faces a different test on Monday when voters in Kamouraska-Temiscouata elect a member of the National Assembly to replace Claude Béchard, who died of cancer last September. The PQ hopes that the passionate arguments of Ms. Marois during the no-confidence motion debate will resonate with voters in the riding.
"When 80 per cent of people disapprove of the government and 78 per cent want a public inquiry, they have an opportunity to relay the expectations of the Quebec population," Ms. Marois said.
Despite the Liberals' troubles, public opinion polls indicate that the race is too close to call. While Mr. Charest travels to France on Thursday to begin an official visit, Ms. Marois will be campaigning in the riding with several members of her caucus. However, Liberals say that Mr. Charest could return from France on Saturday for one last campaign blitz before Monday's vote.