08/07/2012 11:04 EDT | Updated 10/07/2012 05:12 EDT

Quebec Election 2012: Queen Target Of PQ Attacks

MONTREAL - The Parti Quebecois is taking on a famous target in the provincial election campaign: the Queen.

The pro-independence party's leader has been referencing the monarchy in her speeches and refers to it as a waste of money; an outdated institution; and a sign that Quebec has no place in Stephen Harper's Canada.

At a news conference Tuesday, PQ Leader Pauline Marois was asked about that kind of talk and whether it might be impolite during the Queen's Jubilee year.

"It doesn't bother me at all to attack royalty," she replied to a reporter from a Toronto newspaper.

"It's not because it's the... event... what's that... the Jubilee — I was looking for the term — not because it's the Queen's Jubilee we should avoid commenting."

The PQ, under Marois, has been much more active in appealing to cultural nationalism than it was under some of her predecessors.

The party suffered its worst election defeat in decades in 2007 under Andre Boisclair, and was believed to have lost much of the nationalist vote to the now-defunct populist ADQ.

Marois has sought to address that. Under her, the party has repeatedly drawn attention to slights against the French language in public and private institutions. She explained Tuesday that such vigilance is the only way to protect the culture as a minority in North America.

In the span of several months, after last year's federal election, the Harper Tories provided her party with some fresh targets and she has consistently hammered away at them.

Moves to hire people who can't speak French to senior federal positions, and to place the monarchy on prominent display in federal institutions, have become a familiar PQ attack theme.

On Tuesday, Marois ridiculed the Harper Tories for replacing the paintings of Alfred Pellan with a large portrait of the Queen in the Foreign Affairs building in Ottawa. The commissioning of a separate portrait, a new one for Rideau Hall, was "money badly invested," she said.

And Marois called it wasteful to have vice-regal institutions in every province.

"(The monarchy) creates institutions like the lieutenant-governor's office that, in my opinion, are not useful," Marois said.

"What's not useful is having sums spent for no reason to have him sign laws he has nothing to say about, and accepting the premier's demand to have an election. If you ask me, these are completely outdated institutions and we should question them."

The PQ now warns there will be some dark consequences for Quebec's culture if the Charest Liberals are re-elected for a fourth term. Marois says Quebec's identity could be imperilled by a Liberal win.

She accuses the Liberals of ignoring a perceived decline in the use of French in Montreal. Marois promises to toughen language laws, introduce a so-called secularism charter with guidelines for religious accommodation; and expand the teaching of "national history" at school.

Identity issues have not figured prominently in the campaign so far. While they are a frequent part of the PQ's campaign messaging, they have been virtually absent in media coverage of the campaign's first week.

The dominant themes, to date, have been the student conflict, attacking corruption, and economic promises.

Francois Legault, leader of the Coalition for Quebec's Future, said today his government would reduce taxes on middle-income families by $1,000, in part by cancelling a health tax imposed by the Jean Charest government. Charest was promising a tax credit Tuesday for green renovations of up to $3,000.

Opinion polls suggest there's a three-way race in the election, with the PQ starting the campaign as the slight favourite.

Two unpredictable factors in the race may be about to play out.

First, student assemblies are voting this week on whether to return to school following months-long declared strikes. It's unclear how many will go back this month, how many will seek to block schools from reopening, and how voters will react.

Charest says he expects his tough student-protest law, Bill 78, to be applied. The legislation sets out severe financial penalties for anyone who blocks a school.

The other wildcard is a spat involving an ongoing corruption inquiry, now on its summer break.

The Coalition wants that inquiry to return from its break for a few days so that it can request specific examples of corruption in political financing.

The last time the inquiry's star witness took to the stand, in June, he made sweeping allegations about rampant corruption but he offered little in the way of specific evidence. That witness, Jacques Duschesneau, is now running for the Coalition.

His opponents are now saying it's unfair that Duchesneau tarnished the reputation of the entire political class, entered politics, and hasn't offered proof yet.

There is now a dispute over whose fault that is — Duchesneau's, or the lawyers who were asking questions at the commission in June.

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