Source: The Canadian Press
Sep 19, 2018
By Sidhartha Banerjee
THE CANADIAN PRESS
MONTREAL _ With Coalition Avenir Quebec Leader Francois Legault on the sidelines ahead of Thursday’s crucial final debate, it was left to a collection of prominent candidates to rally behind him Wednesday.
Legault has been under fire in recent days over his party’s immigration proposals but candidate Sonia LeBel said confidence in their leader hasn’t wavered.
She said a Montreal news conference featuring some of the party’s most recognizable faces was all about putting his team on display.
As candidates talked about hiking the legal age for cannabis consumption to 21 and tightly controlling where it can be consumed, questions eventually came back to their leader’s whereabouts on Day 28 of the 39-day campaign.
“We are here today because we are part of a team, Mr. Legault has a team and that’s what we wanted to emphasize,” said LeBel, a former prosecutor.
“It’s not a question of him being absent, it’s a question of the team showing up.”
Legault has been the target of his opponents for repeatedly stating his government would kick out immigrants if they don’t pass a French test after three years in the province.
Most of Quebec’s major political leaders had lighter schedules ahead of the debate, but Legault’s absence was notable one day after a poll suggested Coalition support was slipping slightly.
Former Montreal police officer Ian Lafreniere, who is running for the Coalition in a riding south of the city, described Legault as the ”man for the job.”
“A strong leader has a strong team and he believes in his team,” he said. “It’s not a one-man show.”
The party was also fending off allegations it was attempting to tightly control messaging, after Quebec Le Soleil reported that a candidate’s representatives sought questions 24 hours in advance of a possible interview.
Coalition spokesman Mathieu St-Amand chalked it up to “clumsiness” on the part of campaign staff for the candidate in the riding of Matane-Matapedia.
The newspaper said staff wanted the questions a day in advance so the party could decide whether to authorize the interview.
For her part, LeBel said she’d never heard of such a practice.
“If you insinuate that there is a control, I have never felt it, not one of my colleagues have ever felt, and I doubt that it exists,” she said.
Parti Quebecois Leader Jean-Francois Lisee also played it low-key Wednesday, giving just a handful of interviews to local media and leaving deputy leader Veronique Hivon to announce the party’s promise to spend an additional $2.3 billion to upgrade Quebec schools.
In northwestern Quebec, Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard visited local employers in Val-d’Or and Rouyn-Noranda to tackle the issue of labour shortages, saying it would make sense to target Indigenous communities to fill the void.
He didn’t offer a way of doing so, but stressed the importance of respecting cultural differences and bringing people together.
One local chief expressed skepticism at Couillard’s plan.
Lance Haymond said a number of hurdles remain for his people to get hired _ beginning with a language barrier in communities where people speak English. There’s also a lack of training and transportation issues given the great distances between cities and reserves.
Quebec solidaire’s co-spokesperson, Manon Masse, sought to reassure the business community in a speech to Montreal’s chamber of commerce, saying the ultimate goal of the left-wing party is to socialize the economy to make it more equitable.
Quebecers go to the polls Oct. 1.
_ with files Melanie Marquis in Montreal, Vicky Fragasso-Marquis in Montreal and Caroline Plante in Rouyn-Noranda, Que.
INDEX: NATIONAL POLITICS