The leaders of Quebec's main political parties will fight to stand out among their rivals Tuesday night during a televised debate in French that is being billed as a probable turning point in the tight three-way race.
Quebec newspapers are calling the debate the "hour of truth" for all three leaders, who stand to make or break their election campaigns depending on their performance.
It is expected Parti Québécois Leader André Boisclair, as well as Liberal Leader Jean Charest, will be hoping to score points against Mario Dumont, leader of the populist party Action Démocratique du Québec.
Polls show Boisclair, who has been criticized for being too flashy and stylish, is losing votes to Dumont. And the Liberals face the same danger, analysts say.
In fact, polls in Quebec indicate that so many traditionally Liberal and Parti Québécois voters are supporting Dumont's party that Quebec appears to be headed for a minority government — the first in the province in more than a hundred years.
Each of the candidates faces his own unique challenge in this race, CROP pollster Claude Gauthier said.
With Dumont nipping at Charest's heels and surging ahead in popularity since the campaign began, Gauthier expects the Liberal leader to go on the defensive against accusations many Quebecers are dissatisfied with his government.
For Dumont, the challenge will be to promote his populist policies while assuring Quebecers his ideas aren't too radical or dangerous, Gauthier said.
Boisclair will have to be conscious of how he plays up his image. One of Boisclair's problems, Gauthier noted, is that he seems to speak in abstractions and appears removed from Quebecers.
"So we will see how he will be able, without changing himself, to be closer to the people," Gauthier said.
Health care expected to be big issue
Boisclair will have to show some humanity to connect with voters, said former Parti Québécois MNA Jean-Pierre Charbonneau.
"His challenge is to be very emotional with the population, to make direct contact," and woo back the PQ's traditional support base.
Charest will likely face attacks on his government's health-care record, and he should come clean with what it actually accomplished, said former Liberal MNA Liza Frulla.
"If you say you will fix it, and even if you did 75 per cent of the job, then why didn't you do 100 per cent as promised? This he has to explain, he has to be I would say very humble and sincere about it."
Dumont stands to gain the most in the debate, according to his one-time colleague, Marie Grégoire, a former ADQ MNA.
"Now the two other leaders are looking at him. That's why I think he has to keep his cool, and he has to at the same time be able to share his plan with Quebecers."
Debate will deliver defining moment
John Parisella, who has coached former Liberal premiers, said a good example of a TV debate being a "defining moment" in the outcome of an election was in 2003, when Charest threw a curve ball at Bernard Landry, the PQ leader.
Charest, then behind in the polls, asked if Landry agreed with former premier Jacques Parizeau's assessment that the loss of the 1995 referendum could be blamed on money and the ethnic vote. Landry looked unprepared for the question and Charest rolled on to win the election, Parisella said.
"It was a determining and defining moment in that debate and in that campaign," Parisella said. "So Mr. Charest, I'm not worried about his performance abilities."
The French TV debate should attract a big audience, as almost half of Quebec voters have said their minds may change about who they throw their support behind leading up to election day on March 26.
The two-hour French debate is being held at the national assembly in Quebec city. It airs Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET on CBC Newsworld, as well as on Radio-Canada, with simultaneous translation.
|Last Update:March 27, 12:52:21 AM EDT|
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