Quebec's government boosted by two defections

Thu Oct 23, 2008 4:02pm EDT
 
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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Quebec's minority Liberal government received a surprise boost on Thursday when it gained two legislators who defected from the largest opposition party.

The defections from the right-leaning Action Democratique du Quebec mean the Liberals, who barely hung on to power in the March 2007 election, now have 48 of the 125 seats in the provincial legislature.

There is increased speculation in the largely French-speaking Canadian province that Premier Jean Charest will soon call an election.

The Action Democratique party, almost won last year's election after an inspired campaign by charismatic leader Mario Dumont. Since then, however, the party has slumped in popularity, in part because Dumont dominated a highly inexperienced caucus.

The ADQ defectors are Andre Riedl and Pierre-Michel Auger.

Auger told reporters that Dumont was "a leader who has not listened to his legislators and doesn't let them contribute" while Riedl said the ADQ was "the party of one man alone who doesn't have a plan for Quebec".

Dumont responded with scorn, saying the two were not among his best members, and challenged them to resign from the ADQ and try to get re-elected as Liberals.

Opinion polls indicate the ADQ -- which is now down to 39 seats -- would lose many of its legislators if an election were held in the near future.

The remaining opposition party is the separatist Parti Quebecois, which wants independence for the giant province of 7.5 million people. PQ governments held referendums on independence from Canada in 1980 and 1995, but both failed.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Rob Wilson)