Jean Charest scurried indoors at the first sign of a few dozen protesters chanting slogans and singing songs Wednesday, marking the first time the Liberal campaign has called off an event because of the unrest that was supposed to define the Sept. 4 election.
Mr. Charest was due to take a stroll through a market where a couple dozen youths chanted, "We've had enough of Charest" and other less polite slogans. Nearly as many well-wishers were also nearby or Mr. Charest's visit.
The Liberal leader said he wasn't interested in causing disruption for the merchants who were supposed to be along his walk.
"It's not about me," said Mr. Charest. "I don't want to act in that movie. This isn't some kind of machismo contest I'm running here. I'm not here to prove who is stronger. It's not about confrontation."
Mr. Charest was expected to campaign against student protests when he called the election Aug. 1 but found little to talk about as most students who were part of a months-long boycott went back to school. The strike over a tuition hike went on for months and saw numerous incidents of violence and vandalism. Most Quebeckers were against the strike.
While sporadic protests have sprung up again, Mr. Charest is now running third and other issues have dominated, including national unity, language policy, the economy and his contention that his opponents were unreliable. In these dying days of the campaign, he has tried to revive the issue.
He spoke Wednesday of intimidation tactics and violence, although neither were visible during Wednesday's protest. Mr. Charest said he had no assurance the event would unfold peacefully. "I wasn't prepared to take the chance," he said.