A petition signed by close to a quarter million Quebeckers calling for the resignation of Premier Jean Charest is illegitimate and should never have been allowed, according to the Liberal government.
Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Pierre Moreau says the government wants the National Assembly to prohibit such petitions from ever being presented to the public again.
"It's not legitimate because it's not within the jurisdiction of the National Assembly to ask for something like this," Mr. Moreau said. "I am absolutely confident that we will never again see such a petition no matter who is there [as Premier]."
Mr. Moreau said the procedure for issuing a National Assembly petition requires that it be within the legislature's jurisdiction. He argued that the National Assembly doesn't have the jurisdiction to call on an elected member to resign based on a petition. An MNA's dismissal can only be requested by an all-party National Assembly board that manages the legislature's internal affairs, Mr. Moreau argued.
When the petition was presented online on the Quebec National Assembly website in mid-November, it had been approved by the secretary-general of the National Assembly. The secretary-general is the highest ranking public servant in the assembly. All the criteria had been met according to the petition's sponsor, Québec Solidaire MNA Amir Khadir.
Within days, the petition became a lightning rod for a groundswell of anti-government sentiment, attracting a massive number of signatures in calling for Mr. Charest's resignation. The online site nearly crashed when thousands vented their anger at the government. The media frenzy that followed added to the Liberal government's embarrassment at a time it was attempting to fend off allegations of unethical practices.
When Mr. Khadir tabled the petition in the National Assembly on Wednesday, 247,379 people had signed it. The petition calls for a public inquiry into the ties linking the awarding of government contracts and political donations, a moratorium on the development of shale-gas reserves, as well as changes to unpopular measures contained in last year's provincial budget.
"It's very significant because it had a very symbolic and strong impact on public opinion," Mr. Khadir said. "This petition crystallizes all that discontent toward this government."
The man who initiated the petition, Steve Brosseau, 36, said the government has lost touch with the concerns of Quebeckers and that his initiative should serve as a wakeup call to the Liberals.
"This isn't a vendetta against the Quebec Liberal Party," Mr. Brosseau insisted. "It calls into question its leader [Jean Charest] … and there can be only one solution and that is to massively take whatever means possible to call for his immediate dismissal."
A spokesperson for the secretary-general of the National Assembly declined to comment on the Liberal government's demand for a ban on petitions calling for the resignation of the Premier. The secretary-general will not get involved in what may be considered a partisan political debate, the spokesperson said.