Election campaign starts in Quebec, separatists lead

Wed Aug 1, 2012 1:38pm EDT
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By David Ljunggren

(Reuters) - Quebec Premier Jean Charest took a big political risk on Wednesday by launching an election campaign despite polls that show him trailing separatists who want independence for the Canadian province.

Charest called a provincial election for September 4, which means the vote will take place before a potentially damaging inquiry into corruption in the construction industry resumes work later the same month.

The inquiry is expected to unearth close ties between the powerful industry and all Quebec's political parties. Charest's Liberals, in power since 2003, could be particularly vulnerable.

Charest says only the federalist Liberals can be trusted to focus on the economy rather than stirring up what he says is irresponsible talk about independence. Quebec, the size of Western Europe with a population of just 8 million, has a high debt load and relies heavily on trade with the United States.

"The choice is clear, between stability and instability," he told a news conference, citing economic problems in Europe.

A summer election could mean a low turnout and this tends to benefit the party in power. In addition, Charest is an experienced election campaigner.

A Leger Marketing survey for the QMI news agency on Wednesday put support for the separatist Parti Quebecois at 33 percent with the Liberals at 31 percent.

The way the vote is distributed means the Parti Quebecois would gain enough seats to win a minority government if an election were held now.   Continued...

Quebec Premier Jean Charest (L) smiles during a photo op before a meeting between Canada's premiers in Halifax, Nova Scotia, July 26, 2012. REUTERS/ADAM SCOTTI