Quebec's chief electoral officer, Jacques Drouin, has once again run into trouble with the Parti Québécois after his spokesperson said that preparations for the holding of a referendum on sovereignty would begin immediately following the election of a PQ majority government.
In an article which appeared Friday in the Quebec City daily Le Soleil, Mr. Drouin's spokesperson Denis Dion explained the need to begin preparations for a referendum as soon as possible following a PQ majority victory.
"Be sure of one thing, if the Parti Québécois is elected with a majority, it begins. It is clear, clear, clear that there will be plans because it involves a huge undertaking," Mr. Dion told Le Soleil. "We will take the summer off but don't you worry plans will be made quickly. The boss will immediately start preparing for it."
The "boss," Mr. Drouin, didn't take kindly to his employee's comments, as his office found itself in the middle of the hottest issue in the campaign and threatened to undermine the chief electoral officer's neutrality.
For weeks, Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois has tried to deflect criticism by Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard saying that if the PQ wins the election it has a hidden agenda to hold another referendum. With his attacks on the PQ's referendum agenda, Mr. Couillard successfully tapped into a sensitive issue that drove voters to support the Liberals and propelled the party ahead in the polls. The last thing Mr. Drouin needed was to become a pawn in the Liberal party's strategy.
Clearly embarrassed, the chief electoral officer immediately apologized and insisted that Mr. Dion's comments in no way reflected his views on what will take place regardless of the outcome of the election.
"The chief electoral officer finds it regrettable and denies what was said by one of his spokespersons. In no way was there ever any question by the chief electoral officer to prepare for the holding of a referendum in an imaginable future or any timetable whatsoever," Mr. Drouin stated in a press release. "What was published in no way reflects the intentions of the chief electoral officer."
This was the second incident involving the PQ that has placed Mr. Drouin at the centre of the campaign. About a week ago the PQ found itself in another controversy when it locked horns with Mr. Drouin over allegations that an influx of students from Ontario and other province were trying to register to vote in the April 7 election. Warnings by the PQ that the election could be "stolen" by non-resident students from the rest of Canada forced Mr. Drouin to demonstrate that the charges were unfounded. He produced numbers to show that nothing abnormal in the registration process had taken place and that in fact there were fewer requests for late voter registrations than in the 2012 election. The episode cooled relations between the party and Mr. Drouin.
PQ leader Pauline Marois accepted Mr. Drouin's apology but refused to make any further comments. "In fairness to him, he did apologize," Ms. Marois said in a news conference before moving on to other issues.