Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois says she will demand full powers over employment insurance, culture and business development funds from Ottawa if the party forms government, but says the PQ will not speed-up plans to hold a referendum on sovereignty.
"But we are a sovereignists party and each day will seek to show Quebeckers what it costs them to be part of the federation," Ms. Marois said. "The Charest government has been crawling on its belly and rolled over before Ottawa on issues that disregard Quebeckers like the proposed changes to employment insurance, gun control and young offenders."
On the issue of holding another referendum on sovereignty, Ms. Marois said her party was clear: there would not be another referendum until the moment deemed to be appropriate.
If elected, a PQ government would invest "a few tens of thousands of dollars" to update the dozens of studies completed in the 1990s prior to the last referendum on the viability of an independent Quebec.
The amounts were a far cry, she said, from the estimated $5-million the Charest government has so far spent on the Council of the Federation or the $153,000 for studies on Canadian federalism that were never released.
The remarks came in response to a Canadian Press a story about how the PQ planned on speeding-up the preparations for the holding of another referendum. A committee was set up last February to examine ways to promote sovereignty and examine what it would take to hold another referendum in response to rank and file members dissatisfied over the way the PQ had handled the issue.
Only a few months earlier four PQ MNAs had quit the caucus over Ms. Marois' refusal to adopt a more aggressive strategy to achieve sovereignty. The PQ has been walking a fine line ever since by promising that political independence remains the objective but that the party must be free of any time constraints as to the holding of a referendum in order to properly prepare one.
Ms. Marois insisted sovereignty is not the focus of this campaign, but is instead about the Charest government's record.
"We aren't talking here about a referendum. This is an election. We are choosing a Parti Québécois government to clean up corruption…to adopt social policies that respond to the needs of the families and the elderly. And when we do hold a referendum, we won't hide it and everyone will be free the way they want," she said.
Ms. Marois made the comments following an announcement on the future of publicly funded daycare centres. She promised to increase the number of daycare spaces by 15,000 over and above the ones promised by the Liberals. She also promised to freeze daycare rates at $7 a day for the duration of a PQ mandate. The PQ introduced the universal daycare program in 1997 setting the rate at $5 per day. The Liberals later increased it to $7.
She accused the Liberals of handing out lucrative daycare permits to their supporters. The PQ estimated that 1,600 places were awarded to Liberal organizers, donors and associates in exchange for $300,000 in party contributions.
The daycare issue became a major embarrassment for the Charest government after serious questions were raised by the provincial auditor regarding the way spaces were being awarded. The situation got even more embarrassing in 2010 when family minister Tony Tomassi quit his cabinet post and was forced out of caucus after a police investigation showed he had used a credit card from a private security firm which had dealings with the government. Mr. Tomassi faces criminal charges and a preliminary hearing was scheduled for next month.
"The Liberals transformed daycare services into an industry. They used the promise of ensuring each child a place to fill the coffers of the Liberal party," Ms. Marois said.
She criticized the Liberals for hiking rates from the original $5 per day to $7 and for proposing to index the rates to the cost of living up to a maximum of $8 per day.
"We have to stop squeezing Quebec families like lemons," she said in reiterating her promise to inject $177-million needed to fulfill her promise of 15,000 new daycare spaces.