MONTREAL - Preparations were in full swing over the weekend for a possible Quebec election, with the parties unveiling new candidates, slogans and even a bus for a campaign that is all but officially underway.
Premier Jean Charest took aim at the upstart Coalition For Quebec's Future as he announced three new candidates on Sunday, providing a glimpse at an issue he'll likely hammer away at in the coming weeks — the Coalition's promise to put the question of Quebec independence on ice.
The candidates were former members of the Action democratique du Quebec, which was absorbed by the Coalition earlier this year. One candidate said she didn't want to run for the new party, headed by former Parti Quebecois cabinet minister Francois Legault, because its leader remained a sovereigntist at heart.
"Mr. Legault and his team are sovereigntists, and myself, I'm a federalist," Linda Lapointe, one of the new candidates, said in Montreal.
Legault's Coalition wants to set aside the independence question for ten years, but he's been dogged by critics who say he should take a clearer position. Kamal Lutfi, one the party's former candidates, called last week for Legault to get off the fence.
In his three election victories, Charest has used similar tactics against the PQ, attacking the party for hiding its plans to break up Canada as soon as it's elected.
Opinion polls show the Coalition in a distant third behind Charest's Liberals and the PQ. Even if it finishes in third, though, the Coalition is expected to play an important role in any outcome and could split the vote with the Liberals, costing Charest's party seats in some ridings.
Legault was also busy Sunday, announcing two new candidates and his party's campaign slogan while showing off a new bus. The party's slogan translates as, "Enough, it's time for a change!"
"We know Premier Charest decided to call an election in summer because he doesn't want a discussion," Legault said in Quebec City.
"We're not afraid of having a discussion, and we'll drive across the province on our bus to have one."
Legault, who pledges to lower taxes and cut back on bureaucracy, denied the latest suggestion he has sovereigntist inclinations.
"We've said clearly the CAQ will never promote sovereignty," he said.
The PQ, meanwhile, had a relatively quiet weekend after stacking its deck with star candidates over the past several weeks. Leader Pauline Marois said last week the party has confirmed 90 per cent of its candidates and the party platform is set.
It's widely speculated that Charest will call an election this Wednesday for a vote on Sept. 4. When asked to confirm the rumours, the premier replied Sunday with a smile that an election would be held "soon."
On Sunday afternoon, Charest travelled to Vermont for a meeting of New England governors and eastern Canadian premiers set to begin Monday.
A group of protesters, some of whom wore the red square connected to the Quebec student movement, held a demonstration before talks even began against a range of economic and environmental policies.
— with files from Laurence Halle