A Parti Québécois claim that Ontarians are trying to steal the Quebec election was a "nearly grotesque" attack on the integrity of the province's voting system, according to Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard.
The PQ said on the weekend that students from Ontario and other Canadian provinces who are studying in Quebec will flood the voter registration process. The claim is a sign Pauline Marois's team is in a state of panic, Mr. Couillard said Monday as he campaigned in Sherbrooke.
Quebec's chief electoral officer brushed aside the PQ allegation Sunday, producing statistics that showed late voter registration requests are actually down from 2012 in the ridings most likely to have out-of-province students.
"This attack on the chief electoral officer is nearly grotesque," Mr. Couillard said. "I can't get over it. It's literally an attempt to bully an independent institution, the chief electoral officer.
"The immense balloon was deflated in a matter of hours, and there they are, having attacked the chief electoral officer and put his credibility in doubt."
Mr. Couillard said the PQ is desperate to divert attention from their early promotion of a referendum on sovereignty – an issue near the bottom of the list of things Quebeckers want to hear about, polls have shown.
The PQ has had some success in recent months by taking a hard line on issues of identity, including the proposed charter of values that would ban religious garb and other symbols from the public service. Late Sunday, PQ Leader Pauline Marois announced her intention to introduce a fresh version of Quebec's language laws to enforce protection of French.
"They're grabbing onto anything that passes. 'Hey, let's try this. Maybe we can scare people.' This is panic. This is a sideshow, and we've had a succession of sideshows before the election as well, that are only destined to divide Quebeckers against each other, to create an environment where they might have a referendum," he said.
Bertrand St-Arnaud, the PQ justice minister and candidate who made the allegation, backtracked Monday, saying the complaint was based on media reports.
"There were legitimate questions to be asked," Mr. St-Arnaud said. "But we are reassured and we have full confidence in the chief electoral officer."
Leader Pauline Marois said the attack on the electoral process does not show her party is feeling vunerable. She said it was her party's responsibility to raise the issue after an official in charge of a riding electoral list resigned last week, saying he couldn't guarantee the integrity of the list.
"It was our job to worry about such a situation, to pose questions. That's what we did," Ms. Marois said. "We have confidence in the institution, but we must always be vigilant.
"For there to be a stolen election, there has to be evidence. What we had were major concerns. It was normal. I was happy the justice minister intervened with our candidates, because we want to make sure the electoral process is respected."