Jean Charest is asking Quebec voters for a 'clear' mandate to steer the province through the financial crisis. Charest is shown here flanked by Liberal candidates Monique Jérôme-Forget (left) and Nathalie Normandeau. ((CBC))

Premier Jean Charest asked Quebec's lieutenant-governor on Wednesday to dissolve the legislature in order to hold a provincial election on Dec. 8.

Charest emerged from a brief meeting with Lt.-Gov. Pierre Duchesne Wednesday morning and boarded the Liberals' campaign bus before heading to an outdoor news conference on the shore of the St. Lawrence River, in west-end Quebec City.

"I am profoundly convinced that we need political stability in order to foster economic prosperity," he said. "That's the choice we have.

"Who can we trust to pilot [Quebec] through this economic storm?"

Charest said he would be pushing for a "clear mandate" and majority government after his Liberals were relegated to minority status in the March 2007 election. The Liberals currently have 48 of the province's 125 seats, compared with 39 for the Démocratique du Québec and 36 for the Parti Québécois, while two seats are vacant.

"I also know in my heart and in my soul that, as we look ahead, we're facing an economic storm and that we need, as Quebecers, to prepare," Charest told reporters gathered at the Quai des Cajeux.

"And that we can't face an economic storm with three different pairs of hands on the rudder of our ship.

"In the end, though, there's an issue that the world cannot escape. It's not just about Quebec. The whole world right now is facing this economic situation and it includes us. And so we have to ask ourselves who will be at that helm when we face this storm."

Charest hopes Quebec voters see him as the best leader to manage the economy in tough times, backed by a strong and experienced caucus.

Polls put Liberals ahead

Recent opinion polls have placed the Liberals ahead of the Parti Québécois and the Action Démocratique du Québec, but Charest will have to make significant gains among francophone voters, who largely ignored the Liberals in the last provincial election.

Charest indicated he knew that the message voters sent in 2007, when he failed to obtain a second majority for the Liberals, was a personal one. The Liberal leader was deeply unpopular among voters for spearheading controversial policies, including electricity rate hikes and deregulated tuition fees.

"I frankly think the message was directed right at me," he said Wednesday. "It’s a message that I received loud and clear. And in politics, as in life, you learn. Sometimes you learn the hard way."

Charest said he’s learned his lessons, and he asked Quebecers to make their choice based on which party has the best team to manage the financial crisis.

"When you’re a minority government, the issue isn’t whether there will be an election, the issue is when will the election happen. I’ve been through eight election campaigns, and I can’t remember one single election campaign or referendum when people said ‘I want an election campaign,'" the Liberal leader said.

Election 'cynical': Dumont

Charest is "irresponsible" for calling a snap election, accused ADQ Leader Mario Dumont.

Forcing an election in the midst of a financial crisis is a decision "based on cynicism, based on the hope that people who are mad … will not vote," Dumont said Wednesday in Quebec City.


ADQ leader Mario Dumont calls the snap election 'cynical'. ((Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press))

"And that we have to fight. We have to make sure that the people who are mad, the people who are right to disapprove such an irresponsible decision to go into an election in the middle of a financial crisis, that they … punish those responsible.

"We’re right in the middle of a financial crisis. People expect in times of crisis, that political parties put aside some partisan aspect of our political life to come together and work together on important issues," Dumont added. "That is what we should be doing here."

The ADQ Leader questioned the Liberals’ goal of forming a majority. "As if we don’t remember that when he did have his hands on the wheel, we were often on the side of the road or in the ditch, or the cornfield."

"People remember when he had both hands on the wheel and nobody could stop him."

Dumont said his team is ready lead the province. "We have a motivated team," he said, brushing off questions about two recent defections from his caucus to the Liberals.

"You cannot believe the extent it created unity within our caucus," Dumont said. "It kind of shed some light for the people on the inside on the reasons why we fight, why we are where we are."

PQ vaunts past record in government

PQ Leader Pauline Marois also shot down the election call but said she’s prepared to campaign with the goal of winning.

Marois accused Charest of hiding Quebec's true economic situation, and suggested his government has mismanaged the economy.


PQ leader Pauline Marois says her party has a strong track record in government during financially difficult times. ((Clément Allard/Canadian Press) )

"When we were in power, we managed well and we governed Quebec well," she said. 

"We will show in the course of the next weeks that the Parti Québécois is the best choice, the best choice to understand the needs of Quebecers and … to propose the solutions that will improve their lives."

Marois was asked about the role sovereignty would play in an election campaign focusing on tough economic times.

"I think a sovereign Quebec would be best equipped to respond to the crisis because we would control our economic life, we would control our taxes and we could make our decisions without asking Ottawa," she said.

"It is not the objective of this election to debate sovereignty but we're not hiding our sovereignty project," Marois added, noting the PQ has already released a sovereignty manifesto reiterating the necessity for independence.

With files from the Canadian Press