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Quebec Premier Jean Charest speaks to reporters during an election campaign stop in Saint-Bruno, Que., Saturday, August 25, 2012.Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

Jean Charest's standard line is that he doesn't comment on polls, but that didn't stop him from assailing the kind of survey that showed him languishing in third place on Saturday.

"The polls are not reliable. The polls are not reliable, and they've never been. How many times do we have to demonstrate it?" Mr. Charest said during a dour campaign stop in a Montreal bedroom community.

Léger Marketing conducted a survey after this week's debates showing the Mr. Charest's Liberals at 27 per cent, one point behind the Coalition Avenir Québec and six percentage points behind Pauline Marois's Parti Québécois. The poll also showed Liberals languishing badly in key regions outside Montreal and among francophone voters.

Mr. Charest pointed to several of his own election campaigns where final results didn't match the polls leading into the vote. Mr. Charest has been expected to lose his own Sherbrooke riding several times over his federal and provincial career, and has always eked out victory.

He also raised the recent example of Alberta, where a massive Wildrose Party victory was all but declared by pollsters before the Conservatives returned to a majority.

"We just had an election in Alberta where the day before the vote one party had a 10 point lead and the next day the other party wins by 10 points. Are you going to tell me that was the margin of error?" Mr. Charest said. "That's why we don't comment on polls."

The Liberal Leader said with many polls "all you have to do is change one variable and you completely reverse the order." He mentioned the distribution of undecided voters as an example.

With allegiances hardening, Mr. Charest dedicated most of Sunday's even to attacking CAQ Leader François Legault, dismissing him as a "peanut merchant" for his plan to trim union membership in Quebec by paying off the unions. In an interview with Le Soleil newspaper, Mr. Legault said the cost of the scheme would be "peanuts, compared to the savings we would make."

Mr. Charest countered that "buying off unions for a few million peanuts, from taxpayers' pockets" is an idea "unique in the history of Quebec."

Speaking in Repentigny, Mr. Legault refused to respond to the "peanut" insult.

"I've rarely had, during the campaign, to respond to new ideas proposed by Mr. Charest," he said. "Today, I have to comment on the ideas of a man who is desperate? I have nothing to add. It's low, and we should be trying to elevate the debate."

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