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Former Quebec Premier Jean Charest (R) speaks with new Premier-Designate Pauline Marois during a photo-op at his office at the National Assembly in Quebec City, September 6, 2012. (MATHIEU BELANGER/REUTERS)
Former Quebec Premier Jean Charest (R) speaks with new Premier-Designate Pauline Marois during a photo-op at his office at the National Assembly in Quebec City, September 6, 2012. (MATHIEU BELANGER/REUTERS)

POLITICS

Parties jockey for position in Quebec transition Add to ...

It was a solemn occasion for two political adversaries as premier-designate Pauline Marois met with outgoing Premier Jean Charest to begin the transition to the first Parti Québécois government in almost a decade.

For the second time in five years, Quebec will have a minority government, and politicians are expecting a turbulent transformation.

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The Coalition Avenir Québec, which placed third in Tuesday’s election, lost no time on Thursday in defining what it will demand as the price of propping up the PQ while the Opposition Liberals regroup, and said it hasn’t ruled out bringing the government down sooner rather than later.

CAQ leader François Legault holds the balance of power in the National Assembly, and as the Liberals began jockeying for position in their leadership race, he urged them to make their choice before next spring’s budget “just in case.”

“If not, I’d have no choice but to back Ms. Marois’s budget. But I think that right now we need some changes in Quebec. We cannot live with the actual status quo, so I think that there is a certain urgency for them to get a new leader,” Mr. Legault said.

For the time being, Mr. Legault said he is willing to co-operate with the PQ on urgent matters. The Liberals will likely be inclined to make compromises and keep the minority government afloat until they have replaced Mr. Charest, so the CAQ Leader said he will use this early stage of the minority government to push his party’s agenda.

Mr. Legault said the election result has put to rest the threat of another referendum on sovereignty, and now the focus must be the difficult economic times ahead. He expressed concerns about whether the PQ can balance the budget while keeping its promises to eliminate proposed hydro rate increases, tuition fee hikes and the health tax all at once.

“What I see as being urgent is acting on the economy. There are black clouds on the horizon and we need measures that will give tax relief to the middle class while attracting private investments to Quebec to improve our productivity,” Mr. Legault said.

For now, Ms. Marois must focus on putting together a cabinet to be sworn in on Sept. 18 or 19. Meanwhile the Liberals held a post-election caucus meeting on Thursday morning.

Most of the members expected to consider running to replace Mr. Charest played their cards close to the vest as they arrived to bid farewell to the departing leader. Only long-time cabinet minister Jean-Marc Fournier took his name off the list. He will likely be chosen interim leader at next week’s caucus meeting.

“I have no interest in the party leadership,” Mr. Fournier said, before quickly indicating he is open to the interim job. “When it comes to parliamentary duties, I will assume any responsibilities [the caucus] wants to give me.”

Accompanied by his wife, Michèle Dionne, Mr. Charest received an extended standing ovation from the defeated candidates, returned and retiring MNAs.

“It was a big decision to take yesterday, but I’m very happy this morning,” Mr. Charest said of his resignation announcement.

Many Quebec Liberals have never seen a leadership race. The last real one was in 1983, when Robert Bourassa outpaced Pierre Paradis, then a young MNA, and Daniel Johnson.

Mr. Paradis, who is still an MNA, did not rule out running again 29 years later. He would have a long hill to climb after quarrelling with Mr. Charest, being excluded from cabinet and spending extended periods in self-imposed exile from caucus meetings.

Transport Minister Pierre Moreau has often been mentioned as a possible successor, as have Health Minister Yves Bolduc and Finance Minister Raymond Bachand. One of the older members of the Charest government, Mr. Bachand was asked if being 64 would be an impediment. “My father was in great shape to age 92,” Mr. Bachand shot back. “I’m going to think about it before I answer. I’m going to talk to my wife.”

Mr. Bachand and several outgoing members of the government admitted the Liberal Party needs reinvigorating after nine years in office.

They also agreed that they can’t take too long to pick a new leader. Mr. Fournier, who briefly was an adviser to Michael Ignatieff when he was federal Liberal leader, said the NDP’s lengthy leadership race showed the importance of expediting matters.

“The NDP’s recent experience shows it’s important not to completely abandon parliamentary work. We can’t afford a vacation from our responsibilities in the National Assembly,” said Mr. Fournier.

In their meeting on Thursday, Mr. Charest and Ms. Marois agreed to hold a special funeral for Martin Blanchette, 48, who was killed in the shooting on Tuesday at the PQ victory celebration that also seriously injured his colleague, Dave Courage, 27. The honour for Mr. Blanchette, the father of a 4-year-old daughter, is in recognition of that fact that he and Mr. Courage intervened to stop the gunman from entering the building where he allegedly planned to shoot Ms. Marois and PQ supporters.

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