February 7, 2008 / 4:11 PM / in 10 years

Separatists may challenge Quebec budget in March

MONTREAL (Reuters) - The opposition Parti Quebecois said on Thursday it could bring down Quebec’s Liberal minority government in late March over its displeasure with the Canadian province’s upcoming budget.

<p>Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois looks at former member of the National Assembly Rosaire Bertrand (not pictured) as the session resumes at the National Assembly in Quebec City October 16, 2007. The opposition Parti Quebecois said on Thursday it could bring down Quebec's Liberal minority government in late March over its displeasure with the Canadian province's upcoming budget. REUTERS/Mathieu Belanger</p>

“We will be ready to go into an election if effectively, the government does not propose significant measures and if the budget does not satisfy us,” Pauline Marois, leader of the PQ. told reporters in Quebec City.

The Liberals are widely expected to introduce the fiscal 2008-09 budget in late March, but no date has been set.

To carry the budget in the provincial legislature, the Liberals under Premier Jean Charest would need support from either of Quebec’s two main opposition parties, the PQ, or the Action Democratique du Quebec, which voted against last May’s budget.

Current party standings in the 125-seat legislature have the Liberals at 48 seats, the ADQ at 41 and PQ at 34. Two seats are vacant.

The Liberal government, which wants Quebec to stay in Canada, narrowly avoiding falling over the 2007-08 budget last May when PQ did not support it outright, but sent only three of its 36 members of the legislature to vote against it.

Francois Legault, the PQ’s finance critic, said on Thursday the party wants to see measures in the new budget aimed at aiding struggling sectors of the economy, such as forestry and manufacturing, and the education system.

The PQ wants the French-speaking province of 7.5 million to separate from Canada, and its current party platform calls for holding a referendum on independence as soon as possible after taking power. Marois has been trying to soften that aspect of the platform.

Quebec voted against separation in referendums held in 1995 and 1980.

The ADQ, which is Quebec’s main opposition party and does not want a referendum on independence, has not indicated how it might vote on the March budget. It voted against last year’s budget and later tried to topple the government over an issue involving the public education system.

Public opinion polls show a provincial election held in the coming months would likely produce another minority government in Quebec, and it is unclear in the tight three-way race which party would emerge victorious.

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