Quebec's upstart sovereigntist party is taking the CBC and two other broadcasters to court over its exclusion from next week's leaders' debates.

Option Nationale wants an injunction forcing CBC's French-language service Radio-Canada as well as Télé-Québec and TVA to include party leader Jean-Martin Aussant in the election debates.

Radio-Canada and Télé-Québec are running a two-hour debate Sunday night between Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois, Québéc Solidaire co-spokesperson Françoise David, Liberal Leader Jean Charest and Coalition Avenir Québec Leader François Legault.

Then next Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, TVA is hosting hourlong one-on-one contests between Marois and Charest, Charest and Legault, and Marois and Legault, respectively.

Aussant said in a statement in French that his exclusion from the debates "makes me doubt the health of our democracy."

"Despite the spirit of the Election Act and Article 423, the big broadcasters are turning a deaf ear to the enthusiasm toward our young party, notably in social media."

PQ rebel

Article 423 of Quebec's election law allows — but does not require — broadcasters and newspapers to give free airtime and space to election candidates and parties, as long as every candidate in a riding and every party represented in the provincial legislature is treated equally.

Option Nationale has one MNA, Aussant, who was one of six PQ legislators who quit the party in June 2011 to sit as an Independent. He launched Option Nationale in the months following.

But Quebec's elections authority, the Directeur général des élections du Québec, has said Article 423 doesn't apply to leaders' debates, as they are considered to be public affairs broadcasts.

Option Nationale will be in court Wednesday to argue for the injunction.

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  • Key Quebec Election Issues

    As Quebec begins a provincial election campaign, with a vote scheduled for Sept. 4, here are some key issues and the stated positions, so far, of the three largest parties: the Liberals, the Parti Quebecois and the Coalition for Quebec's Future.<br><br><em>With files from CP</em>

  • Student Strikes

    Liberals say their $254-a-year, seven-year tuition increases will improve universities while expanded loans and bursaries programs will actually leave the poorest students better off. Liberals have mostly refused to budge in face of protests, although their original proposal was for $325-a-year increases over five years. Their controversial Bill 78 would reopen classes in mid-August for one-third of students still on strike, while setting out severe fines for anyone blocking schools.<br><br>PQ has been more supportive of protesters and would cancel the hikes, propose smaller increases pegged to inflation and hold provincial summit on university funding.<br><br>The Coalition has positioned itself to occupy the middle ground, proposing more modest annual tuition increases of $200 a year over five years. Party originally voted for Bill 78 but now says it created unnecessary tension and wants some provisions suspended.

  • Ethics

    After two years of intense pressure, Charest Liberals called a corruption inquiry that is now probing malfeasance in construction industry and its ties to political parties and organized crime. Before that, they had announced plans to hire more oversight officials at Transport Department; tougher fines for engineering firms; stricter political fundraising laws; new rules for public-works tendering; and new anti-corruption squad that has since made numerous arrests.<br><br>PQ making ethics central plank of platform. It wants tougher legislation preventing companies guilty of tax evasion from winning public contracts. It also proposes new measures to combat voter cynicism including: citizen-initiated referendums, fixed election dates, political donations limited to $100 a year, and the right to vote at age 16.<br><br>The Coalition wants new integrity commissioner to oversee government contracts, and new powers for prosecutors, as part of a "big cleanup." It also promises fixed election dates.

  • Northern Development

    Liberals will tout Plan Nord, a sweeping plan that sets out $80 billion in public and private investments in mining, energy, infrastructure and conservation projects over a quarter-century.<br><br>PQ accuses Liberals of selling off Quebec's natural wealth at cut-rate prices and is calling for a 30 per cent surtax on profits from non-renewable resources.<br><br>The Coalition has also taken aim at the signature plan, alleging windfall will primarily benefit foreign companies and Quebec mining firms cosy with Liberals.

  • Sovereignty

    Liberals have long stood as the major federalist option in Quebec. Party is frequently accused by opponents of being subservient to Ottawa. However, it has clashed publicly with federal government over issues like long-gun registry, omnibus crime bill and changes to health transfers.<br><br>PQ is offering no timetable for third referendum on independence. Instead, party plans to pick fights with Ottawa in seeking more power over immigration, environment, agriculture and revenue collection. PQ hopes such battles will generate support for independence. Eventually, Quebecers themselves could initiate referendum, under plan to allow California-style plebiscites. People would need to collect 850,000 signatures to hold provincial vote on a given topic.<br><br>The Coalition, led by former PQ minister Francois Legault, vows to shelve any referendum on independence for 10 years to focus on building economy. But many federalists remain wary of the once-passionate sovereigntist.


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