Marois starts planning for PQ victory

Voters go to the polls in Quebec in just a few more days, but Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois is already sketching out plans for her first weeks in office, although she's statistically in a three-way tie in the most recent Quebec election polls.

Sovereigntist party leader says top priority would be getting new powers from Ottawa

Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois appeals to voters for a majority government after latest polling suggests the PQ is on track to win a minority government with 32 per cent support 4:17

Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois is already sketching out plans for her first weeks in office, although she's statistically in a three-way tie in the most recent Quebec election polls.

The pro-sovereignty leader is considered the front-runner for Tuesday's provincial election, despite a poll Friday in Montreal's La Presse newspaper that has the PQ and its rivals the Liberal Party and the Coalition Avenir Québec party within overlapping margins of error.

PQ leader Pauline Marois embraces a supporter as she arrives at a campaign stop in Gatineau Friday August 31, 2012. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)

Nevertheless, Marois is laying out her plans for governance, saying she would take a few days to prepare a cabinet.

Then she says she would contact Prime Minister Stephen Harper about transferring powers to Quebec — in areas like Employment Insurance, language and communications.

"In the days that follow, in the weeks that follow, it will be a short delay, I will contact Mr. Harper," Marois told reporters while campaigning in Gatineau, across the river from Ottawa.

Marois brushed off a question about whether she would adopt a belligerent tone with Harper: "No, not at all. I will employ an attitude of respect."

The party has said it wants Quebec to have control over multiple things usually in the federal domain, from copyright law to international aid funds. If Ottawa refuses, it says, that will bolster the case that Quebec and the rest of Canada must go their separate ways.

Sovereignty support weak

But the news in the polls isn't great for the PQ. Friday's survey in La Presse, conducted by opinion firm CROP, finds the PQ ahead by four percentage points in the popular vote, with 32 per cent support to the CAQ's 28 per cent. The margin of error is 3.1 points, though, meaning actual support could be stronger for the CAQ than for Marois's separatists.

Support for the Liberals was at 26 per cent among poll respondents.

Even worse for Marois's cause, support for her party's raison d'etre — Quebec independence — is at an exceptionally low 28 per cent in the survey.

The data suggest support for sovereignty has dropped eight percentage points during the campaign, while the number of undecided voters has increased to 10 per cent and support for Canadian federalism stands at 62 per cent.

The numbers in that survey peg support for independence well below the level it was at three decades ago, when 40 per cent of Quebecers voted Yes in a 1980 referendum, and far below the Yes side's 49 per cent result in the 1995 sovereignty referendum.

The poll of 1,002 Quebecers was conducted by telephone Aug. 27-29.

Francophone vote crucial

But a close result in the overall numbers doesn't tell the whole story. Outside Montreal, Quebec is overwhelmingly French-speaking and support from francophones determines the result in most of the province's ridings.

There, it appears the PQ's edge is bigger, though still not massive.

Marois met the mayor of Gatineau on Friday morning, and was spending the rest of the day campaigning in Lachute en route back to the Montreal suburbs. She has been pushing in recent days to get Quebecers to elect her to a majority government, saying it's the only way she'll be able to resolve the province's student crisis, revoke a $200 flat health tax and press for independence.

Liberal Leader Jean Charest was in Quebec's Mauricie region, where he attacked the PQ, saying a vote for them is a vote for economic instability and another society-wrenching referendum. He was also slated to campaign in Trois-Rivières.

CAQ Leader François Legault returned to his key themes in his first stump speech of the day, affirming in Quebec City he would be the best premier at  "cleaning things up, fixing health care, cutting taxes on the middle class."  The CAQ is hoping to swipe some seats in the provincial capital region from the Liberals, similar to the breakthrough its predecessor party, the Action Démocratique Québec, made in the area in the 2007 election.

If Charest pulls out another victory on Tuesday, he will have won his fourth straight term as premier, something Quebec hasn't seen since former first minister Maurice Duplessis. Marois and Legault have both been in power before, too, as cabinet ministers in the Parti Québécois governments of the 1990s and early 2000s.

With files from The Canadian Press