Opposition is growing within the Quebec Liberal Party over the timing of a leadership convention as some caucus members question the need to make a quick decision.
While some members want an early race to replace Jean Charest to strengthen the party's hand before the Parti Québécois minority government tables its first budget next spring, others contend it would be a bad idea to rush into it during hearings into corruption in the awarding of government construction contracts. Some fear embarrassing revelations could derail the campaign and turn it into a mudslinging match.
"We have to make sure not to have these kinds of problems," outgoing Environment Minister Pierre Arcand said, insisting that the party should take its time in organizing the leadership race.
Mr. Arcand said he does not plan to seek the job himself.
Mr. Charest presided over his last caucus meeting on Wednesday before handing the reins to Jean-Marc Fournier, who was chosen interim leader.
Mr. Fournier was cautious on the timing of the convention. "We don't have the date yet as to when the leadership will be. … That will be up to the [party] executive to make a proposition to the general council [meeting of party members]," he said.
Other caucus members are more impatient. Outgoing Finance Minister Raymond Bachand said it is urgent to choose a new leader so the Liberals can be ready to "block" the PQ government from adopting "disastrous" economic policies.
Mr. Bachand is considering a bid for the leadership. He said he has consulted family, friends and potential supporters. Although he will turn 65 next month, Mr. Bachand said he still could lead his party to victory in the next provincial election. When asked what Quebec needs, he laughed and replied: "Raymond Bachand."
"The party has to have a leader before the next budget because what the Parti Québécois wants to do would be a disaster for the Quebec economy. If they maintain their current budgetary and economic policies, we have to be ready to block them," he said. "If we are in a leadership race, when that happens, that will allow them to do anything."
Several potential candidates have spent the past few days talking to supporters and gauging their chances.
Outgoing Transport Minister Pierre Moreau said he has spoken to several people but has yet to decide. Another possible contender, Economic Development Minister Sam Hamad, decided on Wednesday against running.
The party executive will soon call for a general council meeting of members to be held next month to adopt the rules for the leadership race and set campaign spending limits. The members will also determine the venue and the all-important timing of the convention, which could be held as early as February, 2013.
This will be the Liberals' first leadership race since 1983. The new leader will be elected by delegates on the convention floor. Each of the 125 riding associations will choose 24 delegates with an equal number of men and women and eight members from the youth wing.
Meanwhile, Mr. Fournier will have his hands full this fall as the PQ minority government plans several confrontations with Ottawa that it plans to use to boost support for sovereignty.
Mr. Fournier warned that the PQ has no mandate to jeopardize national unity. "I can't see that they would think that they have a mandate to start fire, artificial fires with Ottawa just to show Quebeckers that it would be a good option for separation," Mr. Fournier said. "We think that separation is bad for the economy and the social progress of Quebec, so we will be there to fight against it."