Pauline Marois warns against 'nightmare' of Liberal government

Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois was on the attack first thing this morning, warning Quebecers they don't want to see a repeat of past Liberal governments.

Quebec's political leaders were on the attack this morning, after a debate that had no clear winner

Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois leaves the stage after her post-debate news conference Thursday. (Ryan Remiorz/CP)

Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois was on the attack first thing this morning, warning Quebecers they don't want to see a repeat of past Liberal governments.

None of Quebec's political leaders are revelling in victory this morning, after a relatively tame debate that saw no clear winner emerge.

The real issue of this campaign is whether we should return to the nightmare of the Liberals, or move forward.- Pauline Marois, Parti Québécois leader

This morning, Marois accused Philippe Couillard's Liberals of living in the past and repurposing former Liberal platforms.

"Philippe Couillard is leading a campaign of fear," Marois said at a news conference at the Longueuil campus of Sherbrooke University.

"The real issue of this campaign is whether we should return to the nightmare of the Liberals, or move forward."

Marois failed to shake speculation about her party's sovereignty agenda, after she refused to give a simple yes or no answer last night when asked if she would hold a referendum on Quebec's independence if the PQ forms the next government.

During the Friday morning news conference, reporters grilled the PQ leader on the referendum question, but she repeated her standard response: "There won't be a referendum if Quebecers aren't ready."

When pressed further, Marois said that her stance on a referendum is clear.

'We won't hold a referendum if Quebecers don't want one and we won't push them towards one," she said.

Marois 'haunted' by referendum question

Robert Libman, a former MNA with the Equality Party and the former mayor of Côte-St Luc, said Marois's attempts to distance herself from the referendum question have been unsuccessful.

"You can’t erase the image of Pierre Karl Péladeau during the campaign raising his fist. That’s probably the one image that defined this campaign so far. He raises his fist and he says ‘I want a country for my children.’ How can you escape that powerful image?" Libman told CBC's Daybreak.

"No matter what she says, that’s going to haunt her during the campaign."

Liberals capitalize on referendum fear

This morning, Couillard continued to slam the Marois for her refusal to give a simple yes or no on the referendum question.

The Quebec flag belongs to everyone, all Quebecers. You don't have to be a Péquiste to be proud.- Philippe Couillard, Liberal leader

"People have had enough, people want to stop talking about these things," the Liberal leader told CBC's French service, Radio-Canada. 

Couillard said last night's debate had a respectful tone, but it's clear there is plenty of tension behind the scenes between the the Liberal leader and Marois.

Radio-Canada's Sébastien Bovet asked Couillard why he wore a Quebec flag pin during the debate.

"Something that frustrates me a bit is that the Parti Québécois, for several years, has kind of branded itself as the representative for Quebec pride. That's not true, the Quebec flag belongs to everyone, all Quebecers. You don't have to be a Péquiste to be proud."

Legault criticizes Marois and Couillard

On Friday, Coalition Avenir Québec Leader François Legault said he was tired of an election that seems to be focusing mainly on the referendum question.

Legault criticized Couillard for exploiting Quebecers' fear of a referendum.

"I think that Mr. Couillard ... really doesn't have anything to say about the economy, good management, health, education, so all that remains for Mr. Couillard is to scare Quebecers over the referendum."

Legault said he was pleased with his own performance during the debate. He said while Marois and Couillard were busy bickering about the referendum question, he was able to demonstrate that he is an entrepreneur.