For weeks, Pauline Marois brushed off election rumours. 

Amid the growing likelihood of a spring vote, the premier playfully repeated “there is no election underway, as far as I know!”

Her tune changed in late February.

“I understand the opposition parties don’t want to adopt our budget,” she said.

Finance Minister Nicolas Marceau’s economic plan had unsurprisingly drawn criticism from the Liberals and Coalition Avenir Québec. 

With little or no chance it would be adopted, the budget was to be Marois’s key to a snap election tabled just as MNAs were about to leave the national assembly for two weeks in their respective ridings.

“It’s a total blockage,” Marois said, describing the way opposition parties were treating the budget. In fact, it wasn’t that categorical.

The CAQ’s François Legault said his party couldn’t support the budget in its current form, but Liberal leader

Philippe Couillard requested time for a thorough review.

Whether the opposition parties would have really voted down the budget ­­and, in turn, the minority government ­­is now irrelevant. 

Marois won’t give them that chance. Instead, she’s sending Quebecers to the polls, convinced the time is right to ask for a majority mandate.

Justifying an early election

In 2008, Jean Charest, then leading a minority government, also had to come up with an excuse to commit tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to an election. He turned to the economy.

Quebecers needed no more than “two hands on the wheel” to weather the economic storm, Charest said over and over.

His gamble paid off, with the Liberals increasing their seat count and gaining a majority at the national assembly.

Marois hopes voters will buy into her justification, too, despite its moot-ness.

Expect the Parti Québécois leader to repeatedly blame Couillard and Legault for this election, a vote that flies in the face of the Marois government’s own fixed election date law.

Under the law, Quebec’s next general election isn’t supposed to be held until 2016.

“The date of the election should not belong to the government,” said PQ minister Bernard Drainville when tabling the bill.

The other parties won’t let the PQ forget it’s ignoring its own law. Already, Couillard has said he’ll challenge Marois on her reasons for calling an early election.

Terminal minorities

The PQ will surely defend itself by suggesting the law only applies to majority governments. Eighteen months is, after all, a standard life expectancy for a minority government.

Marois will instead want to shift the debate and flaunt her government’s recent handling of the economy ­­signing deals to save jobs at Alcoa, promote oil exploration off Anticosti island and gain control of federal job training money.

If she succeeds, voters will forget about the election date law. 

They could even give her the majority mandate she so wants, looking past Marois’s ostensible excuse for a triggering an election in the first place.