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voter turnout

Jean Charest, shown campaigning in Laval, told English radio Friday that abstaining from voting is like voting for the PQ.CHRISTINNE MUSCHI/Reuters

Voter turnout was less than 60 per cent in the last election campaign in Quebec, but it was even lower among the province's anglophones.

Facing an angry electorate, the Quebec Liberals are now raising the spectre of a third referendum on sovereignty in a bid to persuade these traditional supporters to get out of their homes and into the voting stations on Sept. 4.

The situation is particularly pressing with a summer election that could have an impact on turnout, as many voters are now on holidays and will be heading back to school in early September.

The Liberals are not afraid of losing fortresses such as Westmount-St-Louis or D'Arcy-McGee to the Parti Québécois or the Coalition Avenir Québec. However, the party has a number of seats in the suburbs north and south of Montreal, and in the Eastern Townships, that could fall to their adversaries in ridings that are the scene of three-way battles.

"In a tight race, the anglophone vote does count significantly," said Dan Lamoureux, president of the Quebec Community Groups Network.

However, the Liberals will have to fight for these votes, as the days of the anglophone community supporting the provincial Grits en masse are gone. Some anglophones have been disappointed by the lack of representation inside the Charest cabinet, while many of them, like the overall population, have grown tired of the government and its various scandals after three straight mandates.

"We can say that anglophones are fed up with being taken for granted," Mr. Lamoureux said.

Liberal Leader Jean Charest took to the airwaves of Montreal's main English-language news radio station on Friday to warn that abstaining from voting is the equivalent of voting for the PQ.

"If you don't vote, chances are there will be another referendum, even if you don't want one," Mr. Charest said on CJAD. "It's very important for those Quebeckers who feel strongly that the last thing they need right now is a referendum campaign go out and vote."

Speaking at a news conference later on Friday, Mr. Charest defended himself from accusations that he is resorting to scare tactics.

"What I am talking about is the main project of [PQ Leader] Pauline Marois. If you want to say that I'm raising a scarecrow, that's your choice," Mr. Charest told reporters.

Mr. Charest said that even the CAQ, which is promising a 10-year moratorium on a referendum, cannot be trusted as its leader, François Legault, and some of its key candidates are former PQ members.

"God forbid Ms. Marois becomes premier … and wants to hold a referendum," Mr. Charest said. "What will François Legault do?"

Mr. Lamoureux said the province's anglophones are looking for "concrete gets" from all parties, saying that the commitments offered during the campaign will help them decide where to cast their ballots.

Still, he acknowledged that the Liberal message will resonate with some members of his community. "The [threat of a] referendum is a way to motivate anglophones to go out and vote," Mr. Lamoureux said.

Voter turnout by the numbers

Turnout has steadily fallen in the last three elections in which Jean Charest has won the mandate, particularly in predominantly anglophone ridings such as D'Arcy-McGee, Mont Royal and Westmount-Saint Louis.

Westmount-Saint Louis

2003: 53.70%

2007: 49.57%

2008: 36.81%

D'Arcy-McGee

2003: 61.98%

2007: 53.11%

2008: 38.89%

Mont Royal

2003: 59.13%

2007: 54.45%

2008: 38.79%