QUEBEC - Quebec Premier Jean Charest threw a surprise bodycheck to hockey-loving voters in the province's capital region on Sunday, warning a Parti Quebecois government could hurt the chances of bringing their beloved Nordiques back.
Charest has been hammering away all campaign about how a PQ government would lead to economic and political upheaval. But on Sunday he was more specific.
He suggested that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman would be less likely to put a team in Quebec City with the sovereigntist party in power.
The PQ, Charest said, is threatening a referendum and "five years of disruption" to follow. Whereas his own party has helped drive down the unemployment rate in the area, he said.
"If I put myself in Mr. Bettman’s place, a city where there's full employment means there will be people who will go watch hockey and have the money to go watch hockey," Charest said at a news conference.
"Then there’s the other choice, with five years of economic disruption. Between the two, the choice is pretty clear."
Quebec City has already announced plans to build a $400-million arena in the hopes of luring back an NHL team. Charest's Liberal government and Quebec City have pledged millions in taxpayer money for the project.
The franchise was relocated to Denver in 1995.
With the provincial election on Tuesday, Charest's Liberals were fighting to retain their seats in the Quebec City area against a strong fight from the Parti Quebecois and, in particular, the new Coalition for Quebec's Future.
While Charest was campaigning in Quebec City, Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois was busy north of Montreal, where she is trying to nail down support in a dozen crucial ridings.
"Support here could mean the difference (between a PQ majority or minority)," Marois said in St-Jerome.
In an effort to drum up support, the PQ brought out Paul Piche, a popular Quebec singer-songwriter and well-known sovereigntist, to a party rally. Piche supported the smaller, more left-wing sovereigntist party Quebec solidaire in previous campaigns, but said it's now time to unite behind the PQ.
Meanwhile, the Coalition for Quebec's Future was dogged Sunday by an anonymous claim making the rounds of social media sites over the weekend that 14 of the party's candidates have faced bankruptcy in the past.
Party leader Francois Legault was reluctant to provide any details during a news conference Sunday morning near Trois-Rivieres. He said the number was exaggerated, though he did acknowledge he was aware certain candidates have filed for bankruptcy protection.
"First of all, I'm not confirming there were 14," he said. "And they have been rehabilitated and I don't think we have to publicly state their names."
Legault added that taking risks was an important part of running your own business. Legault's own business credentials — he was a co-founder of Air Transat — form a central part of the Coalition's message. Close to 50 of the party's 125 candidates reportedly come from a business background.
"We are the team with the most entrepreneurs," he said. "When an entrepreneur takes risks in business sometimes it's positive, sometimes it's negative."
- with files from Patrice Bergeron, Martin Ouellet and Jonathan Montpetit
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