POLITICS

Quebec Election Speculation Ramps Up

07/11/2012 02:50 EDT | Updated 09/10/2012 05:12 EDT
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There are more signs today that Quebecers could be in for a summer election campaign.

A report in Montreal's La Presse newspaper speculates voters in the province will head to the polls on Sept. 4, the day after the Labour Day holiday.

Citing unnamed government sources, the report says an election call will come Aug. 1.

It's the latest in a series of clues that the governing Liberals are poised to drop an election writ sooner rather than later in their current mandate, which runs until December 2013.

Those omens include the opposition Parti Québécois's unveiling some of its party priorities on Wednesday, including a call for food sovereignty and local farm ownership.

Another sign is the parade of veteran politicians announcing their retirement from politics, including the most recent one, Liberal MNA Norman MacMillan.

MacMillan confirmed his departure during a news conference in Gatineau on Wednesday morning.

"What is written in all the papers today or yesterday, I think there's an election coming up, so the party asked me to announce it today... for them to make the choice of new candidate in Papineau," he told reporters.

MacMillan took the opportunity to stump for the premier, calling him "an extraordinary man, a man who loves Quebec, who loves people who live in Quebec. I think in the next election campaign, we'll have some surprises.

"If all Quebecers spent five minutes with Jean Charest, the election would be that much easier," he said.

The Liberals say they already have a replacement candidate lined up for MacMillan's riding.

Coalition Avenir Québec Leader François Legault called the possibility of a September election a Liberal ploy to avoid facing new revelations expected in the fall when Quebec's corruption commission resumes its work.

"He doesn't want to go [to the polls] after Sept. 17, because the Charbonneau commission will restart public hearings, and he doesn't want to hear that," Legault told CBC News.

The Liberals have faced a growing rumble of public discontent this year, in the wake of the Charbonneau commission, the student tuition crisis and an emergency law, the controversial Bill 78, which limits the size and location of public protests.

An August election campaign may be favourable for the Liberal government, given that late summer is a time when many voters are less likely to be thinking about election issues, according to Leger Marketing vice-president Christian Bourque.

"People will have to focus on politics instead of having that last little stint of fun before the fall start," he said, predicting the possibility of a lower voter turnout on election day.

That could bode well for the Liberals and their election machine, even though "it's a fairly unpopular government," Bourque said.

"Doing the election while people are not usually focused on politics might be a better timing for the Liberals," he said.

Charest's approval rating low

Charest had among the worst approval ratings of any premier in the country in the spring, garnering only 32 per cent support in an Angust Reid poll published June 7.

Saskatchewan's Brad Wall, by contrast, has an approval rate hovering around 70 per cent. The online survey, conducted in May, polled 6,599 people and had a margin of error of plus or minus 1.2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

The Quebec Liberals were elected to their third consecutive term in December 2008. Charest first became premier in 2003.

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