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PQ sees economic nationalism as key to a better future

Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois speaks at a news conference Wednesday, August 8, 2012 in Baie St-Paul, Que.

Jacques Boissinot/CP

In keeping with Parti Québécois tradition, Leader Pauline Marois is offering a vision in which state intervention would play a major role in the economic development of the province.

Ms. Marois argued her case on Thursday for a "a major shift" in policies, rooted in economic nationalism. The PQ is proposing to change the mission of the province's powerful pension fund by requiring the Caisse de depôt et placement du Québec to create a $10-billion "strategic investment fund" to protect Quebec companies against foreign takeovers and promote homegrown industries.

"With a Parti Québécois government we will stop [foreign companies] from profiting at our expense," Ms. Marois told 400 supporters at a party rally in Saguenay, a bedrock of Quebec nationalism in one of the province's most predominantly francophone regions.

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Earlier in the day, in the parking lot of a local Rona hardware store, Ms. Marois slammed the recent $1.8-billion hostile takeover bid of Quebec-based Rona Inc. by U.S. home-improvement giant Lowes.

The PQ Leader said that instead of directing the Caisse to support Quebec companies, the Charest government had ordered the pension fund to invest in quick-profit schemes which resulted in investments in money-losing ventures such as asset-backed commercial papers and tens of billions of dollars in losses for the pension fund.

"Jean Charest's 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 told reporters.

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

Throughout the day, the PQ gloated over what it called "the odour of scandal" afflicting Liberal Leader Jean Charest's campaign.

Mr. Charest has had to defend himself against allegations 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 Premier.

Ms. Marois invited Mr. Charest to tell Quebeckers why he met with someone who was being investigated by police. "It has the odour of scandal and it is quite exceptional," she said. "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."

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Mr. Charest, who was seething with anger after the report aired on Wednesday, isn't excluding taking legal action againt Radio-Canada or filing a complaint with the network's ombudsman. But that decision won't be taken until after the Sept. 4 vote.

Mr. Charest said there was no political intervention to get the Sûreté du Québec to stop its operation, but denounced the "insinuation" that was created by the broadcaster.

"My conscience is clear. I'm not sure that the same can be said about Radio-Canada today," he told reporters Thursday.

Meanwhile, Ms. Marois began mounting an offensive against François Legault, the former PQ minister who is leader of the upstart Coalition Avenir Québec. Mr. Legault said on Wednesday that he would vote No in a referendum on sovereignty should one be held in the near future.

"Mr. Legault has abandoned all of his convictions," Ms. Marois said.

"This is the François Legault that pleaded with passion for Quebec to become a country, who said that Quebec as a province was ungovernable, who said that a sovereign Quebec would be wealthier. He has abandoned everything."

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