04/04/2014 12:39 EDT | Updated 06/04/2014 05:59 EDT

Pauline Marois Grilled Over Last-Minute Promise To Cut Taxes


MONTREAL - Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois put on a brave face Friday as she tried to reverse her party's fortunes entering the final weekend of the election campaign.

With opinion polls suggesting the PQ trails the Liberals heading into Monday's vote, Marois told reporters that she's received mostly warm receptions on the campaign trail in recent days.

"We were in a shopping centre yesterday, I didn't see very many people who were not ready to support us," Marois said Friday in response to a query about the PQ's disappointing poll results.

"I am working to win on April 7 and I have a great team ... I won't comment on polls in the media nor on my own."

Marois made the election call last month when polls suggested her party had enough support to put the PQ within reach of a majority.

But the PQ's momentum hit a wall after its splashy introduction of media baron Pierre Karl Peladeau as a star candidate. In announcing his candidacy, Peladeau raised a clenched fist and proclaimed his support for Quebec independence, an idea that most Quebecers oppose.

Marois was asked during a campaign stop Friday in Laval whether she would like another week to turn things around.

"As you know, it's a campaign that lasts what, 33 days?" she said.

"I like campaigning, I could keep doing more."

On Thursday, Marois made a sudden, 11th-hour attempt to woo middle-class voters by promising to cut income taxes, a pledge one opponent called desperate.

After the announcement, she said she hadn't mentioned the tax cuts earlier in the campaign because, "Not a lot of people asked me."

Marois acknowledged Friday that the future cuts received no mention in the budget her government tabled two weeks before the election call.

"I said this just like that because this is how we've been thinking since the start," she said.

"We don't think that it's magical thinking."

She said the PQ can promise the cuts because the province is now positioned to achieve a bigger budgetary surplus than expected thanks to economic growth and her party's job-creation policies.

"With our economic policy, I think we are able to increase (government) revenue," Marois said.

"If that is the case, I will split this new revenue between the citizens and the services which we have the obligation to offer to the population of Quebec."

The tax cuts, she added, would kick in only after the province balances its books, which the PQ has forecast for 2015-16.

However, Quebec's interim auditor general has indicated the government's goal of tabling a balanced budget within a few years is very optimistic.

As Marois campaigned in Laval and in the Eastern Townships, Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard visited the Montreal region and central Quebec.

Couillard was asked whether Quebec voters might hear more corruption allegations directed at his party if he forms a government.

The province's anti-corruption police unit seized boxes full of documents last summer in a raid on his party's headquarters.

Meanwhile, Quebec's ongoing public inquiry into corruption has yet to examine the issue of political financing.

"The whole political scene in Quebec, I think, has to answer — not only one party," Couillard said Friday.

"When events will come to my knowledge, I will act in consequence and I will have (zero) tolerance once the events ... are confirmed."

Couillard promised Friday, if elected, to release legal opinions by the Justice Department involving the PQ's controversial charter of values.

"In all transparency, once we're in government, if Quebecers put their trust in us, we will publish those legal opinions," he said, while campaigning in Saint-Jerome, where PQ star candidate Pierre Karl Peladeau is seeking a seat.

"But this is a moot question because we are not going to adopt the discriminatory option of the PQ proposal. We're going to legislate on the other portions on which everybody agrees."

Later in the day, two topless female protesters came within a few metres of Couillard at a campaign stop at a Montreal park.

The women, from the group Femen, had slogans painted on their bare skin denouncing a strict law adopted by the Charest Liberals a couple of years ago to crack down on the student protests.

The protesters were quickly taken into custody by police.

"Freedom of expression sometimes has unexpected consequences," Couillard said with a smile shortly after the incident.

As the Liberals have remained strong in the polls, the opinion surveys have also suggested that the Coalition Party has attracted more support in the later stages of the campaign.

Even though the party was shown to be trailing the Liberals and the PQ, Coalition Leader Francois Legault said Friday that he believes he will win a majority.

Legault said that he has already started thinking about who will sit in his cabinet.

"An athlete who never aims for the gold medal will never win the gold medal," he said.

"You must aim for this objective. Yes, I am visualizing, but the trend and what I see on the ground show me that it's possible."

— With files from Patrice Bergeron, Martin Ouellet and Alexandre Robillard

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