The Parti Québécois minority government is turning the heat on the Liberals by placing them at the centre of the corruption scandal that has stunned the province.
Testimony before the Charbonneau Commission has given the PQ plenty of ammunition to mount an attack against the Liberals' integrity. Premier Pauline Marois intends to remind voters that the Liberals tried to bury the corruption issue by resisting for months public pressure to create a public inquiry.
The PQ demanded Thursday that the Liberals apologize for their stalling tactics and set up their own internal inquiry to investigate allegations of dubious ties with construction firms and questionable fundraising tactics.
"They could have taken the decision to create a commission of inquiry three years ago," Ms. Marois said. "They didn't do it. They are partly responsible for what is happening."
As cabinet ministers arrived for a two-day caucus meeting to prepare for next week's opening of the fall session, it was obvious the PQ's strategy is to strike a damaging blow to the Liberals as they head into a potentially divisive leadership race.
Part of the PQ offensive is to show that corruption in the awarding of public contracts was allowed to go unchecked by the former Liberal regime in order to avoid the type of shocking revelations made at the Charbonneau Commission.
"The Liberals should be ashamed for creating this mess and for allowing crooks and shady entrepreneurs go about their business like they did," said Bernard Drainville, the minister responsible for democratic institutions.
While the vast majority of testimony so far at the commission has involved municipal politics, especially in Montreal and Laval, some Liberals have been mentioned.
Meanwhile, Sylvain Gaudreault, the minister of municipal affairs, said Thursday that the law doesn't allow him to remove from office a mayor who may be under investigation for fraud.
But that may soon change. Mr. Gaudreault is preparing legislation that will give him the power to order elected municipal officials to step aside if they come under police investigation for fraud.
Mr. Gaudreault was relieved when Laval Mayor Gilles Vaillancourt announced he was stepping down temporarily and suggested that perhaps Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay do the same.
"Mr. Tremblay should do what is best for the greater interest of Montrealers," Mr. Gaudreault said. "It is a crisis that can best be explained by the incredible delay [in creating a public inquiry] caused by the Liberal government."
Also Thursday, the issue of language came up when federal Liberal leadership candidate Justin Trudeau said there's no need to toughen Quebec's language laws.
During a visit to Quebec City, Mr. Trudeau was asked Thursday by reporters about plans by the new PQ government to toughen language laws. His response: The PQ language policy is unnecessary and counterproductive.
In Drummondville, the PQ said Mr. Trudeau's comments showed his lack of understanding of the language issue in Quebec.
Jean-François Lisée, the minister responsible for Montreal, said the objective of Bill 101 was to ensure the preservation of the French language on the continent. However, he said, the proportion of francophones on the island of Montreal has been in constant decline for decades, a situation that has raised serious concerns for the PQ government.
- With a report from The Canadian Press