Pauline Marois pursued her offensive against François Legault on Monday night, repeatedly calling for a majority PQ government warning that the CAQ leader would lead to more division and chaos.
In a speech to about 300 supporters in Drummondville On., Ms. Marois portrayed Mr. Legault as being no different than Liberal leader Jean Charest, warning the CAQ, if elected, would lead to more confrontations and social unrest.
"After nine years of Jean Charest we aren't going to give ourselves four years of trouble with François Legault," Ms. Marois said. "François Legault is Jean Charest with another face."
The majority of the speech was aimed at discrediting the CAQ leader, who has become the main target of the PQ campaign. Ms. Marois presented the CAQ leader as having no experience and as being unprepared to lead the province. She accused him of siding with the federalist camp and with Stephen Harper's vision of Canada after reneging on his soveregnist convictions,
"He has joined the ranks of the No side, of the status quo. I can just imagine him defend with passion his Canadian Rocky Mountains, I can just see him cooing next to Stephen Harper," she said in mocking Mr. Legault's decision to turn his back on Quebec independence after defending it for so many years when he was a PQ minister."For François Legault changing means changing ideas," she said.
Ms. Marois appealed to students to take their fight for a freeze on tuition fees to the ballot box and support the PQ. She also reiterated her dream of one day achieving political independence for Quebec.
"We must elect a Parti Québécois majority government. We must elect a sovereignist government," she said. "We can't take the risk of dividing the vote."
Ms. Marois has taken up urging voters to give her Parti Québécois a majority government, warning she will be helpless to fend off a right-wing federalist coalition of Coalition Avenir Québec and Liberals in order to pursue "progressive" policies.
The PQ Leader warned that unless she wins a majority, the student strike over tuition-fee hikes will remain unsettled, mining companies will pay fewer royalties, there will be no new language law and little improvement for daycare services or home care for the elderly. Sovereignty would also have to take a backseat in the event of a PQ minority.
"What we are saying is that in order to do this, it will take a Parti Québécois majority government," Ms. Marois said. "A minority government would find itself up against a coalition of people who would prevent us from adopting bold progressive policies."
The PQ Leader refused to speculate on how she would handle being at the head of a minority government. She said she would accept the verdict of the people but that a majority government was within reach. "I am fighting hard for a majority government," Ms. Marois said. "That is what is at stake in the election."
Ms. Marois also made a pitch to middle-class voters by siding with the majority of Quebeckers who were against tuition-free universities – a demand at the heart of last spring's student strike.
Ms. Marois blames the Liberals for the confrontation with the students. But she urged protesters at two Montreal universities who blocked access to classes on Monday to obey what she called a "despicable" law that limits protests in order to defeat the "right-wing" forces in the election.
"I am telling these students, 'You have a way to solve the situation: Go out and vote on Sept. 4,'" Ms. Marois said.
With his upstart Coalition Avenir Québec now threatening both PQ and Liberal ridings, Leader François Legault sought to reassure voters by vowing the CAQ will behave responsibly if elected.
Liberal Leader Jean Charest attacked Mr. Legault for "wanting to take a chainsaw" to the public service, an important employer in Quebec City, and pick a fight with Quebec's powerful unions.
Another snapshot of the intense competition the CAQ is posing for the Liberals emerged Monday with a Segma-Le Soleil poll showing the CAQ at 34-per-cent support and five percentage points ahead of the Liberals in Quebec City region – an area where Mr. Charest won eight of 12 ridings in 2008. The provincial capital is one of several battleground areas that will decide the Sept. 4 election.
Mr. Charest became angry when asked about the Quebec City poll but pointed out the numbers have actually improved compared to a previous survey – even if he's lagging far behind the result four years ago.
Campaigning in ridings north and south of Montreal, Mr. Legault sought to smooth out the impression that his government would slash and burn its way through the Quebec bureaucracy and launch skirmishes with unions and student bodies.
The CAQ Leader insisted he would be flexible on his plans to hike university tuition fees in the province by $200 a year. For the first time, he said he is open to looking at various scenarios involving loans and bursaries with student leaders that could lead to a lower tuition increase.
"If my party is elected, we will sit down with the students and seek a reasonable compromise," he said.
Mr. Legault is seeking to attract more female voters to his upstart party and he is also campaigning heavily in suburban ridings, where his party is trying to appeal to centrist voters and Parti Québécois supporters.
At certain moments Mr. Charest tried to strike a more conciliatory tone, saying quarrels are the last thing Quebec needs. He noted Quebec's unions have never done him any favours but he did manage to negotiate recent collective agreements with them.
"I'm still waiting for them to organize a support rally," Mr. Charest said. "But the day after my election, I will be working with everyone. The premier's job is not to categorize people."