As the issue of corruption in government dominated another day of Quebec's election campaign, star candidate and crusading ex-cop Jacques Duchesneau made his first public stumble by contradicting his own party.
Mr. Duchesneau said during a radio interview that he would be the one to choose the anti-corruption ministers if the Coalition Avenir Québec formed the next government. That suggestion was quickly shot down by his party, a contretemps that drew mockery from opponents and highlighted the pitfalls facing the newly-formed CAQ and its handful of high-profile but inexperienced candidates.
CAQ Leader François Legault vowed there would be “only one boss” and that Mr. Duchesneau would be consulted on some positions. “I have experience managing big egos,” Mr. Legault said on his Twitter feed, pointing to his private-sector experience in the airline industry.
Leaders of the other parties pounced on Mr. Duchesneau’s comments to try to dull some of the aura surrounding the popular candidate, whose entry in the race was seen as a potential game-changer for his third-place party leading up to the election on Sept. 4. Mr. Duchesneau has a reputation for integrity in the province, but his political adversaries are playing up the notion that he is a loose cannon and not a team player.
Quebec Liberal Leader Jean Charest played up the notion that Mr. Legault, who has been active on social media during the campaign, would play second fiddle to Mr. Duchesneau’s self-described position of “conductor” in anti-corruption measures. “If I understand correctly, François Legault will run the Twitter account and organize cocktail fundraisers, while Jacques Duchesneau will run the rest of the government,” he said, repeating the formula on a number of occasions.
A Léger Marketing poll found that 70 per cent of the Quebec population feel their provincial government is corrupt, but Mr. Charest rejected the CAQ’s contention that Mr. Duchesneau is the equivalent of “Quebec’s Eliot Ness.”
“Eliot Ness was a police officer, not a politician,” Mr. Charest said.
In a Monday evening speech to a partisan crowd in Lac Mégantic, Mr. Charest said the improvisation within the CAQ made it clear that “they're not ready” to take power. Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois had previously declined to comment on the decision by Mr. Duchesneau to run for the CAQ. But his remarks on the nomination of ministers opened the door for her. “The comments reflect the improvisation with the CAQ,” she said, adding it was “total improvisation” and “amateurish.”
Ms. Marois’ strategy has been twofold. She wants to convince Quebeckers that despite being perceived as a crusader against corruption, Mr. Duchesneau alone cannot solve the problem. What is needed, she argued, is a team of competent ministers committed to cleaning house and leading the battle against corruption, insisting the PQ has fielded such a team. Like Mr. Charest, Ms. Marois has also set out to show that Mr. Duchesneau is a loose cannon.
“I’m going to let Mr. Legault settle his problems with Mr. Duchesneau. It appears he has his hands full only 24 hours after announcing his candidacy,” Ms. Marois said.
To stay on top of the issue of corruption, the party on Monday revisited an old story accusing the government of signing off on a deal to sell land to Montreal’s Catania family, who were regular donors to the Quebec Liberal party. The land in Montreal was supposed to be used to build a community centre. Instead it was resold for a profit.
“There is nothing illegal here but it raises questions about what a company is able to do with land it purchased for one reason and decides to use it for another,” Ms. Marois said.
On a tour of eastern Quebec regions where the party hopes to make inroads in what is now Liberal territory, the PQ leader said if her party formed the next government, it would fight Newfoundland and Labrador’s claim over the Old Harry oil deposit in the Gulf of St-Lawrence. Ms. Marois added she would challenge a recent agreement between the two provinces and Ottawa.
The residents of these remote communities, located on what is also called the Magdalen Islands, are worried about possible oil spills and destruction of their fishery resources and tourism industry, she said, calling them an important source of livelihood for the area.
“Our position is clear. Before proceeding with the exploration of Old Harry we need to hold a debate with the involvement of the communities,” Ms. Marois said. “People have told me today that if we proceed with the exploration, money should be set aside to deal with the risks so that people can be compensated.”
She said the residents of the islands are also concerned about proposed changes to the federal employment insurance program that would penalize seasonal workers if they fail to accept employment outside their regions. Ms. Marois said it would be impossible for the isolated communities here to meet the new requirements without being penalized.
“These communities live off seasonal work, whether it is the fishing industry or tourism. We will fight for changes to the employment insurance program.”
In fact, according to Ms. Marois, employment insurance is a program that should be managed by Quebec rather than Ottawa. A PQ government, she added, would lead the fight to take control of the program which she said should be designed to meet the needs of communities.
On Monday, Mr. Charest announced his government would offer $100 a year for every child in a public primary school in Quebec to help pay for back-to-school materials, at a total cost of $45-million a year.