Party leaders point fingers on health care; promise school, transit reform

Quebecers didn't have to wait long in the current election campaign to hear the province's political party leaders start assigning blame for the problems in the health-care system, with both the Liberals and the Parti Québécois pronouncing on the issue Wenesday.

Quebecers didn't have to wait long in the current election campaign to hear the province's political party leaders start assigning blame for the problems in the health-care system.

Both the Liberals and the Parti Québécois pronounced on the issue Wednesday.

It was clear to Premier Jean Charest that the fault lies mainly with Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois and the previous PQ governments in which she served.

Marois, on the other hand, insisted that Charest is to blame, having squandered his time in government since 2003 by not keeping promises to ease emergency room crowding and cut wait times.

"He did not solve the problems," Marois said while campaigning in Longueuil, Que.

The recriminations began flying as a Léger poll suggested that Quebecers believe health care, and not the economy, is the No. 1 issue in the campaign for the Dec. 8 election.

Campaigning in the Beauce region, Charest said his government has been working for the last five years to "clean up the mess" left behind by Marois when she was a cabinet minister.

Marois, he insisted, "is the source of the problems we're living with in the health care system."

Charest pointed out that Marois, who served in key roles as health and finance minister in various PQ governments, was responsible for thousands of doctors and nurses being encouraged to take early retirement in the 1990s, leaving the system strapped.

The premier said his government has increased admissions to medical schools by 20 per cent and noted that 92 per cent of Quebecers who need surgery have it done in less than six months.

Former MNA quits PQ because of 'undemocratic' rejection

Marois also faced criticism from within her own party Wednesday as former MNA Jean-Claude St-André announced he is quitting the PQ because he was denied the nomination in his old riding, L'Assomption.

He said Marois had been undemocratic in rejecting his candidacy in favour of former Quebec Green party leader Scott McKay.

St-André, who served on the board of the sovreigntist organization Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Montréal, also refused to follow Marois's decision to put sovereignty on the back burner for the time being.

Greens want fixed elections

Guy Rainville, the new leader of the Quebec Greens, announced his party's platform on Wednesday, calling for an overhaul of the electoral system to make it more democratic.

Among his proposals is a fixed date for elections.

Rainville said he's disappointed he won't be included in the leaders' debate.

'Errors' in the education system cause high school drop-outs: ADQ

Elsewhere, Action Démocratique du Québec Leader Mario Dumont continued to focus on education, saying the province's system has been "programmed to fail."

Speaking on the football field of a private school in Quebec City, the Opposition leader said the high dropout rate and behavioural and learning problems experienced by Quebec students prove his theory.

He said students are often promoted to higher grades before they are ready.

The problem "is not biological or genetic" but attributable to "errors" in the system, he said.

Dumont also revived a promise to abolish school boards in the province.

Dumont's efforts seem to have found an ally in the Fédération des syndicats de l'enseignement teachers' union, which echoed many of his concerns and called for better funding for primary and secondary schools.

Marois also announced that a PQ government would invest $3.5 billion in improvements to public transit around the Montreal area.

The PQ leader criticized the public- and private-sector partnerships that have been embraced by the Liberals for large projects.

She said she would find the money for the transit improvements amid funding already announced by the government for infrastructure refurbishing.

The PQ's interest in transport was echoed by the left-wing Québec Solidaire party, which made similar promises but allocated only $1.2 billion in funding.