* Paper says Quebec premier wants Sept. 4 election
* Polls show ruling Liberals tied with separatists
By David Ljunggren
July 11 There are growing signs that Quebec
Premier Jean Charest will call an early election despite polls
showing his ruling Liberals could lose to a separatist party
that seeks independence for the mostly French-speaking Canadian
Montreal's La Presse newspaper, citing what it said were
several Liberal insiders, said Charest strongly favored
launching the campaign on August 1. That would mean an election
on Sept. 4.
Charest's chief spokesman did not respond to a request for
Charest, who took over as premier in 2003 and was re-elected
with a majority government in 2008, has become increasingly
unpopular over the last two years amid allegations of corruption
and kickbacks in the influential construction industry.
Charest long resisted the idea of a probe into the industry
but changed his mind after the leak of a secret report from an
investigator who found that laundered money from organized crime
groups was financing political parties, including the Liberals.
A Sept. 4 election would take place before the corruption
inquiry restarts on Sept. 17 and at a time when many in the
province are still in a relaxed end-of-summer mood.
"Maybe Mr. Charest is saying (his) risk of losing will never
be lower," said Christian Bourque of polling firm Leger
Marketing, who noted that low turn-outs often tend to favor the
"There is no evidence in Canada that a government has been
punished for when it called an election," he told Reuters.
Charest also courted controversy in May when the government
pushed through a law clamping down on student protesters unhappy
with proposed tuition hikes. The law prompted widespread
condemnation from trade unions, lawyers and other groups who
said it was far too draconian.
Another big hint of Charest's plans came when veteran
Liberal legislator Norman MacMillan announced his retirement on
Wednesday and said he had been asked to bring the date forward
by almost two months because of an imminent election.
"Everyone thinks there is going to be an election soon and
the decision was taken because of that. It's clear, you can't
hide the fact that there will be an election soon, but I don't
know the date," he told reporters.
Leger's most recent poll in late June put the Liberals in a
statistical tie with the separatist Parti Quebecois (PQ), which
wants the province to break away from Canada. A CROP poll at the
end of May also showed the two parties tied.
Because of the way votes are distributed, the Liberals need
to be three to four percentage points ahead of the PQ to stand a
chance of winning even a minority government, Bourque said.
A PQ government would likely need to hold a province-wide
referendum on independence before being able to break away from
Canada. Similar votes failed in 1980 and 1995. Opinion surveys
show fewer than 50 percent of Quebecers back the idea of
PQ leader Pauline Marois said a Sept. 4 election would be
pure cynicism on behalf of Charest, who doesn't have to call
another vote until the end of 2013.
"He probably wants people to forget his record to such an
extent that he would hold an election campaign ... while
Quebecers are on holiday," she told Radio-Canada television.
Marois, who refuses to say when a government led by her
would call a referendum, is under pressure from hard liners who
want independence as soon as possible.
Last August a handful of influential legislators quit the
party in frustration over her leadership style.