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PQ, Liberals in tight race for today's Quebec election

The last time Quebec had a sovereigntist government the invasion of Iraq had just gotten under way and there was a frantic international search for Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.
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Polls favour PQ, but voter turnout key.

The last time Quebec had a sovereigntist government the invasion of Iraq had just gotten under way and there was a frantic international search for Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

Now Quebec voters will head to the ballot box today after 3,416 days of relative quiet on the national-unity front, with indications of that silence being shattered as polls point to the proindependence Parti Québécois being restored to power.

The final result, however, is far from certain, given the potential for three-way vote splits that only compound unknown quantities like late shifts in voter sentiment and the strength of each party's get-out-the-vote operation.

Party leaders made a last pitch to voters on the final day of the campaign Monday, driving home their key messages.

Marois continued to press for a majority mandate to rid the province of the scandal-dogged Charest Liberals; demand a transfer in powers from Ottawa; make peace with student protesters; create language and identity laws; and set her party's sovereigntist agenda in motion.

"We don't want to find ourselves in an election [again] in six months," she said in Quebec City.

Charest argued the opposite: A vote for any party but the Liberals would lead to economic and political instability, he said.

The premier has framed this election as a choice between "stability and job creation" and "referendums and the streets," a reference to the near-daily student protests over tuition increases last spring.

However, the student protests have mostly wound down and the issue hardly made news during the campaign.

At a sod-turning for Quebec City's $400-million arena, Charest repeated his claim that a sover-eigntist government could jeopardize the city's chances of bringing back NHL hockey.

Quebec City is one of the areas of the province Charest had hoped to dominate but polls suggest he could lose seats to the new Coalition party. He told reporters it was more likely a team would return in "an economy that's doing well rather than an economy that's doing poorly."

Coalition Leader Francois Legault, meanwhile, toured the hotly contested ridings north and south of Montreal, hammering away at his message of change.

"We will clean up government, we will clean up the bureaucracy," he said at a news conference, flanked by star candidate Jacques Duchesneau, a former police chief and anti-corruption whisteblower.

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