Pauline Marois is urging voters to give her Parti Québécois a majority government in the Sept. 4 election, warning a coalition of Liberals and Coalition Avenir Quebec will cause social unrest.
The PQ leader warned that unless she wins a majority, the student strike over tuition fee hikes will remain unsettled, mining companies will pay less royalties, there will be no new language law, and little improvement for daycare services or homecare for the elderly. Sovereignty would also have to take a backseat in the event of a PQ minority.
"What we are saying is that in order to do this, it will take a Parti Québécois majority government," Ms. Marois said. "A minority government would find itself up against a coalition of people who would prevent us from adopting bold progressive policies."
Ms. Marois the Liberals for the confrontation with the students. She urged those at the University of Montreal and the Université du Québec à Montréal who blocked access to classes on Monday to obey the law but to defeat the right-wing forces in the upcoming election.
"I tell these students you have a way to solve the situation: go out and vote on Sept. 4," Ms. Marois said.
For Ms. Marois, the race has become a fight for a PQ majority. Convinced that with the level of support the party has achieved with francophone voters, a minority government was highly probable.
Ms. Marois has reached out to the pro-sovereignty progressive forces especially in Montreal who may be tempted to support the more left-wing Quebec Solidaire party. The PQ was battling to hold on to the Montreal riding of Gouin being challenged by QS co-leader Françoise David whose startling performance during the leaders debate helped boost her profile with voters.
In an election where only a few seats may be the difference between winning a majority or having to settle for a minority, every winnable seat becomes a battleground.
In her effort to consolidate the so-called "progressive" vote, especially in the Montreal region, Ms. Marois can't afford to distance herself from the more conservative rural ridings where the CAQ appeared to be making a run at a few PQ seats.
While in Saint-Guillaume in the rural riding of Nicolet-Bécancour, the PQ candidate Gilles Mayrand said the biggest challenge was coming from the CAQ.
"It is a close race with the CAQ. We can feel it. This riding is not left-wing it is more at the centre," said Mr. Mayrand.
He played down comments made by former PQ premier Jacques Parizeau who threw his support behind Jean-Martin Aussant, the leader of the newly formed pro-sovereignty party Option nationale who is running in the riding. "Certainly I'm disappointed. But that's part of politics, Mr. Mayrand added.
While trying to appeal to several segments of Quebec voters Ms. Marois's message has become increasingly confusing. Just before heading into Nicolet-Bécancour in the heartland of rural Quebec, Ms. Marois said that free university tuition, which was a demand made by several student groups, would be impossible to achieve, contradicting last spring's position where she said it would be possible to examine the idea.
"I say to all Quebecers and to all students if they support the Parti Quebecois we will cancel tuition fee hike. But I can't say to the population of Quebec it is possible to have free tuition," she said in English during a news conference. "I say to those who want to vote Quebec Solidaire that it (free tuition) is not possible because if we do that we can't do anything else. We have to be respectful of all other citizens."
The message may go over in rural Quebec or with some middle class voters who massively supported a tuition fee hike during last spring's student strike but it will certainly harm her chances at reaching out to the supporters of Quebec Solidaire which supports free university tuition.
The series of flip flops over the past week involving controversial issues such as language, referendum on sovereignty, and her dismissal of the importance of the pro-sovereignty conservative vote may have left many voters perplexed and alienated enough support to deny the PQ its quest for a majority government.
Ms. Marois refused to speculate on how she would handle being at the head of a minority government. She said she wiould accept the verdict of the people but insisted that between now and voting day the call for a majority of seat will be made over and over again.
"I am fighting hard for a majority government. So that people who vote for us are voting for a sovereignist government that will advance the interests of Quebec," Ms. Marois said. "That is what is at stake in the election."
Another snapshot of the intense competition the CAQ is posing for the Liberals emerged Monday with a Segma-Le Soleil poll showing the CAQ at 34 per cent support and five percentage points ahead of the Liberals in Quebec City – an area where Mr. Charest won 8 of 12 ridings in 2008. The provincial capital is one of several battleground areas that will decide the Sept. 4 election.
Charest became angry when asked about the Quebec City poll but pointed out the numbers have actually improved compared to a previous survey – even if he's lagging far behind the result four years ago.
He turned the question to blast Mr. Legault for "wanting to take a chainsaw" to the public service, important employer in Quebec City, and pick a fight with Quebec's powerful unions.