A prominent Parti Québécois candidate has hijacked a speech by Coalition Avenir Québec Leader François Legault to east-end Montreal businessmen, highlighting the growing ground fight between the two leading parties in the Quebec election.
Mr. Legault addressed the East Montreal Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday morning, only to find that PQ candidate and high-profile strategist Jean-François Lisée had bought a ticket and was in the room.
Mr. Legault joked about Mr. Lisée's presence during his speech, pointing out that constitutional fights "do not create jobs ... except for strategists" like Mr. Lisée.
After Mr. Legault finished laying out his economic platform, Mr. Lisée quickly stood up, asking the first questions from the floor. His comments related to local topics – the need for a new subway line and a new hospital in the east-end of Montreal – but the confrontation revealed growing tensions between the two parties.
CAQ officials were visibly angry as Mr. Lisée left the room before the end of the event, attracting all journalists away from the speech to get an explanation for his appearance.
It is a rare occurrence in electoral campaigns for candidates to make unscheduled appearances at their rivals' events.
PQ Leader Pauline Marois applauded Mr. Lisée's surprise intervention, calling it a bold and daring move on his part.
She said Mr. Lisée was a free, independent-minded candidate who had every right to be concerned with the lack of clear policies from the CAQ leader on the development of Montreal.
"It doesn't put me in an embarrassing situation at all," Ms. Marois said while campaigning in northern Quebec's Abitibi region. " I am comfortable with what Mr. Lisée did. …It was a daring move and that's normal because we don't know what he CAQ stands for (regarding the development of Montreal)."
Mr. Lisée has a reputation of being a strategist who won't hesitate to put himself in the spotlight. In this case, Mr. Lisée appeared to contradict his own leader by arguing that he would give priority to extending a subway line over the completion of a commuter train line north of Montreal.
Ms. Marois welcomed the challenge of having several hard-headed prominent candidates on her team.
"I would prefer people who are daring , who have ideas and who sometimes initiate debates (rather) than to have a bunch of 'Yes' men. I don't have any 'Yes' men on my team," Ms. Marois said.
The most recent CROP poll suggests that the PQ is in first place in the campaign, while the second-place CAQ has upward momentum. The two parties are in a crucial battle for votes in the province's francophone ridings that will ultimately determine the winner of the Sept. 4 election.
Exiting the golf course after his speech, Mr. Legault said the appearance by Mr. Lisée was a sign of "desperation," but he refused to answer more questions from journalists and left the event in his limousine.
Mr. Lisée argued that in his answers, Mr. Legault made it clear that a new subway line on Montreal Island was "not his priority."
In fact, the CAQ Leader only said that he would look at all infrastructure projects if he forms the next government before determining which one would be his government's priority.