MONTREAL — Quebecers will go the polls next month with the Parti Quebecois chasing a majority government that could lead to another independence referendum.
Pauline Marois, first elected premier 18 months ago, announced the April 7 vote Wednesday after meeting with her cabinet.
Flanked by PQ MNAs inside the national assembly, Marois listed what she described as her government’s accomplishments since coming to power in September 2012 following the defeat of Jean Charest’s Liberals.
Recent polls have suggested the pro-independence party could capture a majority.
Marois’ seven-minute speech was peppered with examples aimed at sending the message that her PQ government has created jobs and been a sound manager of the economy, an area long considered a party weakness.
“Today, we can say the results are there,” she said, before crediting her government with creating 47,000 jobs in 2013.
“We have put lots of effort — lots of effort — in our economic policies to make Quebecers richer in all regions with quality jobs everywhere.”
The statement, which she delivered before a meeting with Quebec’s lieutenant-governor, made no mention of Quebec independence, sovereignty or referendum. She refused to take questions from journalists.
In recent weeks, Opposition leader Philippe Couillard has repeated the warning that a majority PQ government would open the door for Marois to call a referendum on Quebec independence.
“It’s a certainty,” Couillard told reporters Wednesday when asked whether he thought a Marois majority would lead to a referendum.
“They want to separate Quebec from Canada. Let’s stop kidding ourselves here.”
Marois, however, has so far refused to commit herself to holding a referendum if she wins a majority, and has said such a vote must wait until the appropriate moment.
If elected to a majority, she has promised to consult Quebecers first on the merits of holding another vote on sovereignty.
Polls have suggested that support for independence has been around 40 per cent in Quebec, which voted against sovereignty in the 1980 and 1995 referendums.
Last month, PQ Environment Minister Yves-Francois Blanchet predicted the Marois government would hold a referendum in its first majority mandate because the party has called such votes in each of its past cycles in power.
Election fever had been building in recent weeks amid a flurry of spending announcements from the minority PQ government as well as the introduction of candidates for all political parties.
Marois argued Wednesday that her government had no choice but to pull the plug due to the opposition parties’ stated intentions to defeat the PQ’s budget, which was presented last month.
“Now it’s up to you, Quebecers, to decide,” she said. “You know my team, my team that is solid, that has proved itself.”
Marois credited the PQ for controlling government spending, fighting corruption, taking better care of seniors and creating thousands of daycare spaces.
She also touted the merits of her government’s controversial-yet-popular secularism charter, which polls suggest has delivered a major boost to the PQ’s support.
“We have a charter that finally gives us the means to see that our common values are respected, such as equality between men and women, like religious neutrality of the state,” Marois said.
The PQ secularism plan aims to prohibit public employees from wearing ostentatious religious symbols at work, such as the Muslim headscarf and Sikh turban.
Couillard, who has attacked the charter for being divisive, has said his party will focus on what he says are the real concerns of Quebecers, including health care, education and jobs.
Francois Legault, the leader of the third-place Coalition party, has accused Marois of wanting to run her campaign on the controversial secularism charter alone.
Legault says the emphasis should be on the economy and criticized the PQ for its fiscal mismanagement.
Before the election call, the PQ held 54 seats in the legislature, nine short of the majority-government benchmark of 63.
Meanwhile, the Liberals had 49 ridings, the Coalition had 18, the left-leaning Quebec solidaire had two and two MNAs sat as Independents.