Tue, Dec 09, 2008 - Page 7 News List

Charest leading in Quebec polls, bolstered by crisis

AFP , MONTREAL

Quebecers headed to the polls yesterday to pick the Francophone province’s next government after a campaign overshadowed by a major political crisis in Ottawa’s federal parliament.

The crisis, among the worst in Canadian history, was triggered after the opposition parties sought to overthrow the minority Conservative government of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and replace it with a coalition.

Harper secured a victory when he obtained a shutdown of parliament and thus blocked the opposition’s bid to overtake him less than two months after his reelection. But the opposition has vowed to beat the drums of battle once again when parliament meets in late January.

Polls have shown the national crisis benefited Jean Charest, Quebec’s outgoing liberal premier.

Charest, who currently leads a minority government, called for snap elections yesterday, saying he needed a firm mandate to lead the province through a period of economic instability.

“The crisis in Ottawa gave him ammunition,” said Claude Gauthier, vice-president of the polling institute CROP. “Charest has stressed the importance of having a strong and stable government that can face up to these economic times. People buy into that.”

Polls published on Friday and Sunday indicated that Charest could regain a majority in the provincial assembly.

His Liberal Party enjoys an average 15 percent lead over the separatist Parti Quebecois (PQ), still reeling from a crushing defeat during the last elections in March last year. Polls show the Liberals at 45 percent support compared to between 29 percent and 32 percent for the PQ. The right-leaning Action Democratique du Quebec lags behind with between 12 percent and 15 percent.

For the first time in nearly 40 years, Quebec’s independence was not a campaign in a province where the survival of a distinct French identity in North America remains a major concern. PQ leader Pauline Marois said she would not seek a referendum for the province of 7.5 million to break away from the rest of the country. With the effects of the global financial crisis taking hold on Canada, the economy was front and center. Charest traveled across the province on an “economy first” slogan that captured voters’ attention and support.

If Charest, 50 and in power since 2003, were to hold on to his seat yesterday, he would become Quebec’s first premier to win three consecutive elections in over 50 years.

A small leftist coalition, Quebec Solidaire, may also elect its first deputy to the provincial parliament.

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