QUEBEC - Francois Legault borrowed a page from Barack Obama's successful 2008 U.S. presidential election campaign when he looked ahead Friday to victory in the Quebec election.
"Like Obama said, 'Yes, we can'," the leader of Coalition for Quebec's Future said in the parking lot of a Quebec City restaurant where he noshed on poutine. "We can do it."
The party has shown momentum in opinion polls, but some Quebecers argue its promises are unrealistic.
One voter outside the restaurant wanted to know if Legault meant business or would forget about his commitments if he became premier.
"I got back into politics to deliver," Legault said.
"It could be tough on some unions," he added, saying changes are needed for Quebec and its children to flourish.
Legault dismissed Premier Jean Charest's efforts to "re-engineer Quebec" in his first mandate as scattered and said he was hamstrung by powerful unions.
Legault isn't ruling out giving municipalities the right to lock out employees, something he said many mayors had requested.
He said he wants to restore the balance between municipalities and their unions and would give cities and towns greater power along with more responsibility.
For his part, Charest warned that a Legault-led government would have dire consequences for the province's civil service.
"It's the equivalent of a purge," Charest said in St-Hyacinthe in the wake of comments by Legault that he would be willing to replace deputy ministers and the heads of Crown corporations if they didn't share his government's views.
"One of the problems with Francois Legault is that if he wants to find people who will agree with him, he'll have to have the same idea for two consectutive days," the Liberal leader said. "Otherwise, there will be a revolving door in the departments."
Charest said he understands it is normal for the government to appoint people who share the same objectives.
"But there's a difference between that and a purge," he said, noting he had kept some Pequistes when he took power in 2003.
As for Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois, she just couldn't escape the referendum controversy that has bedevilled her the past few days.
Marois said Friday she could, "in the higher interests of Quebec" refuse to hold a sovereignty referendum even if more than 850,000 Quebecers signed a petition calling for one. That plank is part of the PQ program.
She acknowledged that such a request would put enormous pressure on the government and said the national assembly would have the last word on calling a referendum.
"We will allow the population to express itself and once that voice is heard, we will have to have good reasons to say no," she said.
''But we might have some in certain circumstances.''
She also finally put a price tag on her party's election promises, saying there would be an additional $992 million in spending over five years. That would work out to roughly $200 million per year.
The money would come partly from higher taxes for people earning more than $130,000.
(By Nelson Wyatt in Montreal with files from Martin Ouellet and Stephanie Marin in Quebec City and Alexandre Robillard in St-Hyacinthe)
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