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Marois unveils plan to protect Quebec companies from foreign takeovers

Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois, left, and her press attache Marie Barrette walk from her campaign bus, Thursday August 9,2012.

Clement Allard/The Canadian Press

The Parti Québécois is gloating over what it calls "the odour of scandal" afflicting Liberal Leader Jean Charest's election campaign.

Mr. Charest has had to defend himself against "insinuations" that he interfered in a police investigation after Radio-Canada reported that police stopped tailing a union official and Liberal supporter, Eddy Brandone in 2009 after he met briefly with the Liberal leader.

PQ Leader Pauline Marois invited Mr. Charest to speak the truth and tell Quebeckers why he met with someone who was being investigated by police.

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"It has the odour of scandal and it is quite exceptional. I have never heard that Premier would ask the Sûreté du Québec to stop tailing someone….It looks like another Liberal scandal. There have been quite a few lately and we have every reason to be worried," she said.

The PQ never misses an opportunity to link the Liberals to the allegations of corruption and illegal party financing that have dominated the first week of the campaign. On Thursday, Ms. Marois attacked Mr. Charest on another front, this time putting the economy at the centre of the PQ's campaign with measures to promote economic nationalism.

The PQ leader promised that, if elected, she would table legislation to change the mission of the province's pension fund, the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, requiring it to invest more extensively in homegrown companies.

Ms. Marois proposed that the Caisse be required to create a $10-billion "strategic investment fund" to protect Quebec companies against foreign takeovers and to stimulate the creation and growth of new companies. She pointed to the attempted $1.8-billion hostile takeover of Quebec's Rona Inc. by U.S. home improvement giant Lowe's.

Ms. Marois also criticized the Charest government for not giving the Caisse a clear mandate to invest in and promote Quebec companies rather than seek quick profits in money-losing ventures such as asset-back commercial papers that resulted in tens of billions of dollars in losses for the pension fund.

"Jean Charest imposed a change in direction (at the Caisse) that accelerated the exodus of our head offices. Alcan, Domtar, Sico, Bauer, Van Houtte, the list keeps getting longer. Now it is Rona that is being threatened. We cannot stand idle," Ms. Marois said.

The PQ leader made the announcement in Saguenay, a region hit hard by a recent lock-out at RioTinto Alcan, which resolved after an eight month labour dispute.

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The PQ would also require that the board of directors of publicly traded companies be required to examine the impact a takeover would have on the workers and suppliers. New legislation would seek to protect the board of directors of companies that would refuse a hostile takeover.

Ms. Marois said that the record shows that the Caisse makes more profits when it invests in Quebec and Canada and decried critics who say that economic nationalism results in lower rate of return for the pension fund.

"I take exception to those critics….When you look at the Caisse's investment record, it makes more profits when it invest in markets here and in Canada…When we invest in China or in England we take bigger risks because we have expertise about these markets," she said.

The PQ strategy has been to break the myth that the Liberals were more in tune with the economic needs of Quebec. The measure announced on Thursday served as a springboard to attack the way the Liberal government has managed the province's economy through less government intervention, which the party says has failed Quebec companies.

"We need to take back control of our development and become masters in our own house," Ms. Marois said in reference to late Liberal Premier Jean Lesage's election slogan that launched Quebec down the path of economic nationalism in the 1960s.

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About the Author
Quebec City political correspondent

Rhéal Séguin is a journalist and political scientist. Born and educated in southern Ontario, he completed his undergraduate degree in political science at York University and a master's degree in political science at the Université du Québec à Montréal.Rhéal has practised journalism since 1978, first with Radio-Canada in radio and television and then with CBC Radio. More


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