Quebecers in for summer election campaign

Quebec voters will be heading to the polls in September, after Premier Jean Charest asked the province's lieutenant-governor to dissolve the national assembly

After months of speculation Charest pulled the plug on his majority government, triggering an election on Sept. 4.

Following a morning cabinet meeting, Charest walked hand in hand with his wife across the street to meet with Pierre Duchesne, the province's lieutenant-governor.

He left a short time later and immediately got into a vehicle, telling reporters he'll have more to say soon.

The premier had refused to confirm that an election is on the horizon, but has been hinting that Quebecers will be facing a choice about the future of their province.

"There will be two visions for Quebec," Charest said at an event in Sherbrooke, his home riding, Tuesday.

"Quebecers will have to decide what type of society they want to live in."

The longest-serving premier in Canada, Charest's government has struggled with public opinion of late in the wake of corruption investigations of the province's construction industry. His government has also taken heat for its hardline approach towards Quebec's students on the issue of tuition hikes.

The latter resulted in months of almost daily protests and the passage of Bill 78 — a controversial, temporary law that set out new limits on public demonstrations.

With election buzz in the air, Parti Québecois Leader Pauline Marois held a press conference this morning, before the expected formal Quebec election call is made, to introduce the party that will be seeking the top seat in any upcoming vote.

Marois said her party chose "teamwork" as a leading pillar for her electoral campaign.

"Charest decided not to help Quebec, Legault let go of his convictions and walks in the current premier's footsteps," she said.

Marois, who was accompanied by various party members, quickly confirmed her views on separatism.

"We prefer that Quebec be a normal country. We choose freedom," she said. "In the coming weeks, it will be our turn to choose. It is not Canada's duty to pick our government for us, it's our turn to decide by voting."

In the nearly four years since Charest's government won the majority of seats in the national assembly, the political landscape has also shifted significantly.

The Coalition Avenir Québec, a new party formed by former Parti Québécois cabinet minister François Legault, gained a groundswell of support when it debuted in early 2012. That support was compounded a month later when the party merged with the former opposition party, Action Démocratique du Québec.

However, polls have shown that the right-leaning party is trailing behind the front-running PQ and Liberals.

The Parti Québécois, the official opposition which has struggled with a spate of MNA departures, saw its support grow as it took the side of the province's students, railing on the government for its inflexibility on the issue.

McGill University law professor Daniel Weinstock said the Liberals will shine, compared to the PQ, if student protests get out of hand during the campaign. But he said the CAQ may prove a formidable foe.

"I think the CAQ will take away from both the PQ and the Liberals. The CAQ is a centre-right party and the way that it is pitching itself to centre-right voters is by saying look we're sort of like the Liberals but we're not corrupt," said Weinstock.

He also said a summer election will likely mean a lower voter turnout, adding that usually benefits the governing party, "because of the depressing impact that it will have on voter turnout but also because people won't be paying very much attention and when they realize on September 4 that they have to go out and vote they may have a tendency to default to the status quo," he said.

Maclean's Quebec bureau chief, Martin Patriquin, agreed, saying Charest is talented when it comes to timing.

"It's one of the things Charest's really good. He sort of governs within six-month blocks. He did it in 2008, for example, he called an election before people could realize the losses in the Caisse du Depot, the public pension plan," said Patriquin.

Amir Khadir – the only elected MNA for Québec Solidaire, the party he co-leads – also gained support from the province's youth for his vocal and public opposition of the tuition fee increases and Bill 78.

This morning, the party also rallied its troops with a election-style news conference. Québec Solidaire co-leader Françoise David went on the offensive against Charest's Liberals, saying the province deserves better than what it's seen from the majority government.

"Quebec is a rebel," party co-leader Françoise David said. " It refuses the domination of economic and financial centres. It believes that by hitting on casseroles and tam tams that the best is to come and that we can build it. Together, in French, standing, proud and firm."

Option Nationale, a new party started by former PQ MNA Jean-Martin Aussant, will also make its debut on the next provincial ballot.

Leaders representing the province's college and university federations also addressed the media this morning to announce their new campaign aimed at ensuring the current government isn't elected for another mandate.

Martine Desjardins of the FEUQ and Eliane Laberge of the FECQ said their organizations will announce their official plans for the campaign Sunday.

They are insisting the movement is non-partisan, but will target 25 ridings where Liberals won a large majority in the 2008 election.

Desjardins said the objective is to "make sure everyone, not only the students, but also citizens remember what the government did in the last eight years of their mandate."

"It's been a long time that they've been in place of the government and we think we [are] ready for the change. We think the youth and the citizen can make the difference."

Political experts have been forecasting a late summer election for weeks, prompting a flurry of candidate announcements and campaign readying by Quebec's political parties.

Here's how things were expected to roll out today:

Charest is expected to meet with his cabinet members at the national assembly this morning. Radio-Canada confirmed yesterday that the government alerted Pierre Duchesne, the province's lieutenant-governor, and requested that he be available today.

To officially trigger an election, Charest will have to walk across the street to Duchesne's official residence and ask that the legislature be dissolved.

The campaign will officially start after the government issues an order to the province's Chief Electoral Officer.

According to the regulations set out in Quebec's Elections Act, election day will be held the fifth Monday after the election order has been issued. That means voting will take place on Sept. 4.

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