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In Quebec election, three parties, three sharply contrasting visions

Francois Legault (L), Jean Charest and Pauline Marois

Jacques Boissinot, Paul Chiasson, Graham Hughes/Canadian Press

The campaigning is over, and Quebeckers are set to deliver their verdict.

The 2012 summer election started off quietly, with much of Quebec on vacation. But four straight days of televised debates between Aug. 19 and 22 showcased three party leaders with sharply contrasting visions about the current state of Quebec and the path ahead.

Coalition Avenir Québec

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The message: It's time for a change, while the province's traditional parties can only deliver more of the same. Less than a year old, the CAQ has heralded a set of anti-corruption measures and increased education and health-care funding, to be paid for by thousands of job cuts. The party is counting on its star candidates, former Montreal chief of police Jacques Duchesneau and doctor Gaétan Barrette, to convince Quebeckers that it is ready to form a government.

The voter: The party's official target is the middle-class family that needs a doctor, wants a better education for their children and will enjoy the party's targeted tax cut. While the CAQ is confident of gaining seats in the greater Quebec City area, its success will depend on its ability to nab dozens of suburban and semi-rural seats in the areas north and south of Montreal.

The future: CAQ Leader François Legault, 55, is vowing to give the next 10 years of his life to the job, so it would take a massive defeat to force him into retirement. If he doesn't win this time around, Mr. Legault is banking on the next election for the CAQ to emerge as a dominant party in the province. – Daniel Leblanc

Parti Québécois

The message: The PQ has the experience to offer a responsible government that can defend Quebec against Stephen Harper's right-wing Conservatives in Ottawa. The dream of a sovereign country remains but there won't be a referendum on sovereignty any time soon. Leader Pauline Marois has promised to tackle corruption, abolish the tuition fee hikes that sparked last spring's social unrest and eliminate the controversial health tax.

The voter: The party needed to re-establish its credentials with sovereigntists and nationalist francophone voters. By offering a "sovereigntist government" but not necessarily sovereignty, the PQ struck a nationalist chord with voters. It then attempted to consolidate support among middle-class families with promises of more daycare spaces and better public transit.

The future: Should Ms. Marois win but fail to prepare for another referendum, she may find herself with dissent within her ranks. Governing a province has never been enough for many PQ members: They want and demand a sovereign country. Many PQ supporters have given Ms. Marois the benefit of the doubt to determine the "appropriate time" to hold the next referendum. But their patience will grow thin if nothing is done. – Rhéal Séguin

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Liberal Party

The message: Quebec's economy has outpaced those of Ontario and the United States since 2008 and stability must be maintained in the face of ongoing global economic and financial turmoil. The centrepiece of Liberal policy is the Plan Nord, a push to attract investment in resource development in Northern Quebec. Quebeckers may want change, but the other parties only promise trouble with plans for independence (the PQ) and austerity and confrontation (the CAQ.)

The voter: The party is strongest among anglophones, ethnic minorities, older francophones and anyone desperate to avoid uncertainty and a referendum.

The future: After nine years as premier, Jean Charest is unlikely to stay on as Liberal Leader with anything less than victory Tuesday night. No potential successor stands out as an obvious replacement. With the Charbonneau Commission on corruption about to hit full swing, many Quebeckers wonder if the Quebec Liberals are heading into a time of crisis similar to the one suffered by the federal Liberals during the sponsorship scandal. – Les Perreaux

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