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Charest plays up economic growth in Quebec’s isolated regions

Quebec Liberal Party Leader Jean Charest arrives at a breakfast meeting with supporters in Saguenay, Que., on Saturday, September 1, 2012. Quebeckers are going to the polls on Sept. 4.

Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

Jean Charest has embarked on a whirlwind tour of sparsely-populated regions with little promise of swinging the election, but don't tell him it looks like a farewell tour.

Mr. Charest says it's his job as Premier and Liberal Leader to hit all regions of Quebec including the tiny Atlantic riding of Magdalen Islands, currently represented by Liberal MNA Germain Chevarie.

"It's not optional in this political place to not go to the Magdalen Islands if you want to be Premier of Quebec," Mr. Charest said after a small breakfast gathering of partisans.

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"In my planning of the campaign it was understood I would go to Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean and we were always going to the Magdalen Islands... We'll be back in Quebec City (Saturday night) and we'll push this thing to the last minute and the last second to win."

The stops in more isolated regions have allowed Mr. Charest to return to one of his strengths as Quebec Premier: his stewardship of the economy.

In 24 hours, he has hit cities and towns such as Trois-Rivières, Saguenay, Gaspé and the Magdalen Islands that had chronically – sometimes catastrophically – high unemployment when he took office in 2003.

In the Gaspé region, unemployment dropped from 23.5 per cent to 11 per cent over the course of his mandates. In other cases, like Saguenay, the improvement has been more modest, dropping from about 11.5 per cent in the late 1990s to about 7.1 per cent today.

"We were witness to one of the worst economic crises in our history, and I say witness, because our economic growth was better than that in Ontario, the United States and Europe," Mr. Charest later told residents of the Gaspé region in one of his stronger, more fiery speeches of the campaign.

Running third in recent polls, the Liberals had spent most of the final week whipping up their base to try to turn the Sept. 4 vote back into a three-way race before Saturday's eastern tour.

Mr. Charest argues a government run by the leading Parti Québécois would lead to quarrel and instability – although Saturday he stopped short of predicting a flight of capital, credit rating trouble or an exodus of Montreal's English-speaking population.

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"We played in this movie twice. People can look back on our past history, at the 1980 referendum and the 1995 referendum," he said.

The Liberal Leader's other main argument is that the Coalition Avenir Québec doesn't have the horsepower to stop the PQ. The staunchly federalist Montreal Gazette was the latest newspaper to abandon Mr. Charest Saturday, offering a lukewarm endorsement of François Legault's CAQ.

"Mr. Legault says he couldn't take position on a referendum because his party would explode. Imagine that," Mr. Charest said.

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About the Author
National correspondent

Les Perreaux joined the Montreal bureau of the Globe and Mail in 2008. He previously worked for the Canadian Press covering national and international affairs, including federal and Quebec politics and the war in Afghanistan. More

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