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Premier Jean Charest and his wife, Michelle Dionne, wave as they board a campaign bus in Quebec City on Wednesday after he announced a general election for March 26. ((Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press))

Premier Jean Charest has called a provincial election, sending Quebecers to the polls on March 26.

Charest met with Lt.-Gov. Lise Thibault just after 11 a.m. Wednesday to ask her to dissolve the national assembly and allow elections in the province's 125 ridings.

For the first time since René Lévesque was first elected premier in 1976, the election is shaping up as a three-way race, with the Action Démocratique du Québec (ADQ) set to challenge the Liberals and Parti Québécois.

Charest has his election team picked, his Liberal party is flush with money, and even Prime Minister Stephen Harper has come to his side with a $350-million boost to the province's environmental projects last week.

Pre-election polls suggest Charest is ahead, and a recent Leger marketing poll indicated Quebecers don't necessarily want another referendum on sovereignty.

That could be a problem for Parti Québécois Leader Andre Boisclair, who's supposed to rouse the sovereigntists.

Polls have already shown that even sovereigntists question Boisclair's judgment following a series of gaffes as party leader and his admission that he used cocaine while he was a cabinet minister.

The third-place ADQ seems to have made gains with leader Mario Dumont's populist conservative politics. They could take seats from both the Liberals and the PQ in rural areas, and will challenge both parties in the greater Quebec City and Beauce regions.

Al Gore weighs in on Quebec election

Just hoursafter the election call, former U.S. vice-president Al Gore urged Quebecers to cast their votes with the environment in mind. Speaking at an environmental conference in Montreal, Gore said Quebecers should not be satisfied by politicians who make vague promises.

Gore, who has made a name for himself as an environmental activist, did not say which party or politicians he favours. He did praise Quebecers for being among the most vocal group when it comes to the dangers posed by climate change.

Gorewent on to Toronto Wednesday night to speak to a sold-out crowd at the University of Toronto.

Wednesday'selection announcement comes a day after the Charest government delivered a budget offering Quebecers modest income tax cuts to the tune of $250 million, and $1.3 billion in extra health-care spending.

The tax cuts would take effect on Jan. 1, 2008.

With files from the Canadian Press