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Student leader Leo Bureau-Blouin and Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois attend a news conference in Laval, Que., Wednesday, July 25, 2012. (Rogerio Barbosa/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Student leader Leo Bureau-Blouin and Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois attend a news conference in Laval, Que., Wednesday, July 25, 2012. (Rogerio Barbosa/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

QUEBEC ELECTION

PQ surrounds Marois with star candidates Add to ...

The Parti Québécois has unveiled a series of high-profile candidates in the lead-up to the looming election as part of a strategy to ensure that its polarizing leader, Pauline Marois, is surrounded by well-known faces.

The goal is to give the sense that the PQ is an inclusive party after undergoing months of strife and divisions, including sniping directed at Ms. Marois, insiders said.

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The downside is that its new recruits come with baggage and offer fresh ammunition to the governing Liberals and the Coalition Avenir Québec. The Liberals jumped on the PQ’s recruitment of a student leader, Léo Bureau-Blouin, in a bid to portray the PQ as beholden to the striking students who caused chaos on the streets this spring.

The election is expected to be called on Aug. 1 by Liberal Leader Jean Charest, who is facing an angry electorate after nine years in power and a series of scandals in the construction industry.

The CAQ had a promising start last year, but the party is now struggling in public opinion polls and faced negative publicity this week after dropping one of its candidates, Kamal Lufti, who accused sovereigntists of being racist.

The PQ also faces an uphill battle to form the next government, with confusion surrounding its plans for a third referendum on sovereignty and lingering questions over Ms. Marois’s leadership skills. In that context, the party plans to put the focus on its entire team of candidates instead of running a leader-centric campaign.

The latest example is the arrival of Mr. Bureau-Blouin, one of the three main faces of the student movement who will run in Laval-des-Rapides, north of Montreal, against a Liberal incumbent, junior finance minister Alain Paquet.

Ms. Marois, who is hoping that Mr. Bureau-Blouin will help boost voter turnout among students, presented the PQ as a large, open movement when she introduced the 20-year-old recruit on Wednesday.

“Welcome to the great, big Parti Québécois family,” Ms. Marois told Mr. Bureau-Blouin.

Mr. Bureau-Blouin impressed many observers with his cool demeanour during the student strike, but his foray into active politics promises to be turbulent. Mr. Charest quickly attacked his candidacy, saying it showed how Ms. Marois has aligned herself with the disorder brought about by the student strike.

“This only consummates the marriage between the PQ and the student movement, including everything that happened this spring,” Mr. Charest said in Quebec City.

CAQ Leader François Legault said he would not comment on every new PQ recruit, but he used the announcement to highlight his party’s education policy.

“Léo Bureau-Blouin is in favour of a freeze in tuition costs,” Mr. Legault said. “We believe that students can make a bigger financial contribution to their education.”

Still, Ms. Marois said she will unveil more star candidates in coming days.

“Our team of MPs is already strong. All new candidacies serve to reinforce this already solid team,” she said. “This movement demonstrates that more and more people are joining the Parti Québécois.”

The party is expected to announce the candidacy of media commentator and strategist Jean-François Lisée, as well as that of Djemila Benhabib, an author who has called for restrictions on the province’s policy of “reasonable accommodations” toward Muslims.

The PQ has already unveiled a number of high-profile candidates, including journalist Pierre Duchesne and the president of the Federation of Quebec Municipalities, Bernard Généreux.

Mr. Duchesne was based in Radio-Canada’s Quebec City bureau since 2005, acting in recent years as the network’s main political analyst in the province. His decision to join the PQ after leaving journalism in June sparked outrage among Liberals, who filed a formal complaint to Radio-Canada, alleging his political analysis, including his coverage of student protests, was biased.

“The thought that an important news figure was on air and criticizing political parties at the same time as he had the desire to participate in an election as a candidate is extremely troubling and raises doubts about his ethics and impartiality,” said the Liberal Party’s director-general, Karl Blackburn.

The network’s ombudsman, Pierre Tourangeau, reported this week that he found no evidence of wrongdoing by Mr. Duchesne.

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