Crossing paths as they hit a popular Sunday talk show, the mayor of Quebec City pulled aside the Liberal Leader running third to pose a hushed question: "You're going to be there, right?"
"There" is a ceremonial sod-turning Monday for Quebec City's $400-million arena project, where some 30,000 shovel-bearing supporters will take part in a celebration to mark the official launch of construction. The event wasn't designed to be a partisan political affair, but Mayor Régis Labeaume was making sure Jean Charest would get his due for pushing through a $200-million provincial contribution to a project civic leaders hope will someday bring back a National Hockey League franchise.
Mr. Charest is desperately trying to hang on to his Quebec City seats – 10 area candidates, seven of whom are incumbents, surrounded him on Sunday.
Mr. Charest has been warning for days about the consequences of government run by the current frontrunner, the Parti Québécois, but he verged on scaremongering when asked if a PQ government could hurt the city's chance at a new NHL franchise.
He pointed out Gary Bettman, the NHL commissioner, would certainly favour continuity in Quebec City, with its full employment and steady economic growth. Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois is threatening referendum and "five years of disruption" to follow, he said.
"Why would we take the chance? Do we need to take that risk?" Mr. Charest said. "Are we not better to say to the NHL, to say to Mr. Bettman who has teams in the U.S. in difficult markets, 'Do you know there is a city in North America with full employment and great prosperity?' If I put myself in Mr. Bettman's shoes, full employment means people will have the means to go watch hockey. Then there's the other choice, with five years of economic disruption."
Mr. Charest denied he was predicting a PQ government would compromise the return by the NHL. "What I'm saying is only common sense…. It's simple reality."
One of Mr. Charest's candidates became upset when asked if Quebec City residents appreciated all the work they had done to bring millions for the arena and several other major infrastructure projects.
"When you've done all you can, bringing in several billions of dollars to the region, there's nothing more you can do. I've worked my heart out for four years, 70 hours a week. If they're asking for more from a human being, I'll have to leave them my seat," said André Drolet, the incumbent Liberal in the Jean Lesage riding where the new arena will be built.