The Quebec legislature resumes sitting this afternoon, with talk of an April election swirling in the air.
It will also mark the return of Quebec Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard to the national assembly, after his victory in an Outremont by-election on Dec. 9.
He spent five years as health minister in Jean Charest’s government, but this is his first time to sit on the Opposition's benches.
Couillard has come out of winter break swinging, demanding the finance minister present a budget before Premier Pauline Marois calls an election.
'We think Marois is not managing the province the way she should be.' - CAQ leader François Legault
He said Quebecers are entitled to know the truth about the state of the province’s finances.
“They have created a very negative, negative climate in the economy and finances while embarking on sideshows — the charter and now the white paper on separation,” he said.
If re-elected with a majority, Marois has promised her party would consult with Quebecers on whether the province should hold another referendum on independence.
CAQ gets ready
On the weekend, Coalition Avenir Quebec launched a new campaign asserting a stance on the secular charter similar to Couillard’s — that the debate is drawing attention away from the economy.
Party Leader François Legault said the Parti Québécois has mismanaged the province’s finances by raising taxes.
“When you look at the growth, the poor growth we have in Quebec, the main reason is the consumption is not there because people, they don’t have any money to spend,” he continued.
He said that the CAQ would lower taxes if it were in power — something that could be seen as a thinly veiled campaign promise.
The CAQ is not the only party that appears to be in election mode. Many saw Marois's recent tour around the regions as an attempt to court voters.
An election could be called in four weeks and held as early as April at this point, since MNAs are back at the national assembly for two weeks starting Tuesday, then get another two-week break in their respective ridings.
Liberals already on defence
A Quebec Liberal member of the national assembly who predicted on Monday that the PQ's would win the next election has been backtracking since last night.
Verdun MNA Henri-Francois Gautrin said Monday that the sovereigntist party could even form a majority government.
Gautrin, a member of the legislature since 1989, warned that the Philippe Couillard-led Liberals could be confined to the Opposition backbenches for a few more years yet.
Recent polls have suggested the PQ had a significant lead among French-speaking voters, who decide the majority of the province's 125 ridings.
Gautrin based his scenario on the CAQ’s losing support and having it gobbled up mainly by the PQ.
Current standings in the national assembly are: PQ, 54; Liberals, 49; Coalition, 18; Quebec Solidaire, 2; Independents, 2.