Quebec premier Jean Charest defiant ahead of confidence vote

Wed Nov 24, 2010 2:04pm EST
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Quebec Premier Jean Charest defiantly stared down opposition legislators on Wednesday just hours before a parliamentary confidence vote put forward by separatists who want independence for the giant Canadian province.

Charest's Liberals, who have been in power since 2003, were expected to narrowly survive the vote. Polls show that the separatist Parti Quebecois would most likely win a Quebec provincial election if one were held now.

Charest, under enormous pressure to launch a probe into allegations of corruption in the construction industry, urged the National Assembly to wait for the results of a police inquiry into the matter.

He also warned legislators that the Parti Quebecois would plunge the province into crisis by quickly pushing for another referendum on independence.

Charest's popularity has fallen steadily amid lurid media stories about the construction industry, including collusion in fixing contracts and supposed Mafia involvement.

"Launching a commission without knowing the facts, or having proof, is useless," said Charest, adding that such a probe would take years and merely produce a report.

"We'd see a string of people who -- guaranteed they would have immunity -- could say whatever they wanted ... everyone is protected at a commission of inquiry. No one is protected during a police inquiry," he thundered.

An online petition demanding Charest step down has attracted more than 233,000 signatures since it was set up on Nov 15. Polls show most Quebecers disapprove of the premier.   Continued...