Philippe Couillard’s Liberal campaign left behind much of the media spotlight Sunday for a flying tour of the far corners of the province.
In a sign of his confidence and his front-runner status, Mr. Couillard flew off in a small plane and left behind intense television coverage and about half the reporters covering him one day before Monday’s general election.
It was also a way for Mr. Couillard to limit his exposure in the home stretch of an election campaign in which the Liberal Party’s lead was mainly built through the errors of his chief adversaries, the Parti Québécois.
Mr. Couillard’s route Sunday would have covered 3,000 kilometres by road. The first stop was on the Gaspé peninsula, where a small group of about 60 partisans packed the tiny terminal of the Bonaventure airport.
Bonaventure was a long-time Liberal seat that fell to the PQ in 2012.
The crowd cheered as Mr. Couillard listed off the regional issues he would push, including the extension of emergency room hours at the local hospital, construction of a cement plant and building transport infrastructure, including a tourist railroad.
But he inevitably returned to his campaign theme, presenting a choice between what he describes as PQ priorities – a referendum and issues of identity like the Charter of values – or the Liberals’ focus on the economy.
“A referendum and the charter never created a single job. They do lose plenty of jobs for people, though,” Mr. Couillard said.
The next stops on the schedule were Sept-Îles on the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Val d’Or in the Abitibi forestry and mining regions of northwestern Quebec, before returning to his Roberval riding in the Saguenay region.
Mr. Couillard spent more than six hours in the air to make 25 minutes worth of speeches and shake a couple hundred hands in the three PQ ridings.
Mr. Couillard has spent much of the weekend trying to halt the rapid rise of the Coalition Avenir Québec, the third party that appeared to be nipping at the heels of the Parti Québécois in two polls released Saturday.
Sunday was no exception as he warned against letting the CAQ split the vote.
Twice in the past seven years, strong CAQ showings have led to minority governments. In 2007 it was the Liberals, and in 2012 the PQ who formed government.
Meanwhile, Pauline Marois called on party volunteers not to abandon the fight. The PQ Leader repeated that close races in several ridings make it difficult to predict with any certainty the outcome of Monday’s vote.
As she stepped up her attacks on Mr. Couillard and warned against the return of a Liberal era of corruption and collusion, Ms. Marois urged party volunteers to get the vote out on Monday. Voter turnout of PQ supporters was the key to winning, she insisted. In fact, the PQ's survival as a government may well depend on it.
“My little finger … tells me that we can win,” she told a small group of volunteer workers in the Quebec City riding of Jean-Talon. “It is true that it is a tight race. But it isn’t over. Our solid organization can make a difference and must get the vote out.”
The Quebec City region has turned into a real battleground between the Liberals and the Coalition Avenir Québec. Ms. Marois hardly mentioned the CAQ, knowing that the more seats it can stop the Liberals from taking in the region, the better the chances of keeping the PQ's slim hopes alive.
Boosted by public opinion polls showing a late campaign surge among francophone voters, CAQ leader François Legault is calling on voters to join his "revolution of courage" and turn their backs on the two traditional parties.
"Fifty years ago our parents and our grandparents threw down the foundations of a modern Quebec. They gave themselves the tools to assume their destiny. They created was was called the Quiet Revolution. Today, I dream of us writing a new chapter of our history," Mr. Legault told supporters at one of his final campaign stops just north of Montreal, where he is seeking re-election.
Quebec poll results, April 5