GRAND-PILES, Que. - Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois tried on Saturday to downplay a decision by former PQ premier Jacques Parizeau, to support the leader of a smaller, more fervently sovereigntist alternative.
Parizeau, who nearly led Quebec to independence in 1995, lent his clout to the campaign of Jean-Martin Aussant, head of Option nationale.
The new party announced on Saturday that Parizeau donated $200 to help Aussant in his own riding.
The development comes as the Parti Quebecois, which has been leading in the polls, tries to shore up support to secure a majority mandate in the Sept. 4 election. Option nationale has been polling at around two per cent provincewide.
Marois said she has "the utmost respect for Parizeau" but urged "sovereigntists and progressives" to unite under the PQ banner.
"I want to tell Quebecers that are listening, if you want to get back to the goal of creating a country, only a majority government can do it, a sovereigntist government of the Parti Quebecois," Marois said at a news conference Saturday.
Option nationale, which presents itself as more committed to Quebec independence than the PQ, already had the backing of Parizeau's wife, Lisette Lapointe.
Lapointe cautioned on Twitter that Parizeau's support for Aussant shouldn't be interpreted as a rejection of his former party, but rather an attempt to get him a seat in the provincial legislature.
Aussant left the PQ to sit as an independent in 2011 over differences with leader Pauline Marois. He founded Option nationale a few months later.
Aussant, who has outlined a game plan to make Quebec independent within his party's first mandate, said Parizeau's support is "a clear expression of the quality of the work we've been doing."
"I think Mr. Parizeau believes we are doing some very efficient work toward sovereignty," Aussant said in an interview, describing the former premier as his political mentor.
"We are the only party right now with a clear message toward making Quebec a country."
Parizeau, 82, has criticized Marois before.
In a speech last summer he took jabs at Marois for not doing enough to promote independence.
Marois hasn't committed to a timeline for holding a referendum if the Parti Quebecois win the next election. She faced criticism this week for backtracking on a party pledge to automatically initiate a referendum if 850,000 Quebecers sign a petition.
As Quebec's premier, Parizeau led the province to within a few votes of independence in 1995, blaming "money and the ethnic vote" for the loss.
With Parizeau signalling his support for Aussant, the PQ no longer has the clear endorsement of any of the three sovereigntist leaders in the 1995 referendum.
Lucien Bouchard, who campaigned alongside Parizeau as head of the Bloc Quebecois, backed away from the party years ago. Ex-Action democratique du Quebec chief Mario Dumont, another prominent voice for the "Yes" side during the referendum, also stopped promoting sovereignty.
Charest took aim at Coalition Leader Francois Legault's plan to trim the province's union membership, saying it would cost millions in taxpayer money to pay them off.
Legault, meanwhile, tried to persuade voters his plan to "clean up" corruption in Quebec was achievable.
"I may not be a big talker like Jean Charest, but I'm a guy who delivers the goods," he said.
- with files from Stephanie Marin, Martin Ouellet and Alexandre Robillard
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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>
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.
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.
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.
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.