François Legault ignored the Liberals and focussed all of his attacks against the Parti Québécois and Pauline Marois in his biggest partisan rally of the campaign.
The leader of the Coalition Avenir Québec stepped up his criticism of the PQ’s referendum strategy, but also took shots at the party’s lack of inclusiveness. Some of the biggest applause came when he spoke in English and invited traditional Liberal supporters to vote for the CAQ on Sept. 4.
Buoyed by a positive editorial endorsement from the Montreal Gazette, Mr. Legault is making a push in the dying days of the campaign to convince federalists to support his party and block a PQ victory.
“If you intended to vote the way that you traditionally did, you are actually voting for a referendum,” Mr. Legault said in English to a largely French-speaking crowd of around 700 supporters. “If a third referendum is not on your wish list, which is the case of 70 per cent of Quebeckers, you must then vote for the Coalition,”
Mr. Legault, a former PQ minister, does not call himself a federalist, having instead vowed to put the Constitutional issue on the backburner for the next 10 years. However, he feels that he is on the cusp of a surprising victory on Tuesday if he can rally the support of Quebec federalists and edge out the PQ with his anti-referendum strategy.
“We’ve never been so close to forming a Coalition government,” he told his supporters.
The CAQ launched its campaign a month ago largely on a corruption-fighting agenda. The issue remains central to Mr. Legault’s platform, as he vowed to “clean up the stables” if he replaces Jean Charest’s Liberal government. As the CAQ unveiled most of its candidates, some of the biggest cheers in the audience were reserved for ex-cop Jacques Duchesneau, who would be vice-premier in a CAQ government.
Mr. Legault also said his main priorities in government would be increasing funding to schools and ensuring that all Quebeckers have access to a family doctor.
However, Mr. Legault is finishing his campaign largely on an anti-referendum strategy, hoping that it will mobilize the electorate to cast a ballot for his upstart party.
“We are the only party that is opening up its ranks,” he said. “Contrary to the Parti Québécois, we don’t exclude any group. We don’t undertake blood tests before accepting someone on our team.”
He went on to accuse “extremist radicals” of controlling the PQ, which is proposing to allow for citizen-initiated referendums if 850,000 signatures are collected. The CAQ Leader said the province’s hard-line sovereigntists will go to work as quickly as they can to launch a third referendum on the province’s future.
“Ms. Marois will be helpless because her party stands to implode like last year, when she was forced to give the car keys to the radicals,” he said, referring to Ms. Marois well-publicized leadership troubles.
He said that he loves Quebec as much as anyone, pointing out that former PQ leader René Lévesque also had doubts about the party’s referendum strategy.
“When you love Quebec, you don’t divide Quebec,” he said.