Ahead of election campaign's official start, Quebec party leaders already talking proposals

"I feel like we've been in a campaign since January," Coalition Avenir Québec leader François Legault said at a party event in Shawinigan, where he talked about the economy.

'I feel like we've been in a campaign since January,' says CAQ leader François Legault

Coalition Avenir Québec leader François Legault made his pitch to be a 'premier for the economy' Sunday at a party event in Shawinigan. (Radio-Canada)

The official start of the provincial election campaign may be more than a week away, but the leaders of Quebec's main political parties all made public appearances today, as the competition informally heats up.

"I feel like we've been in a campaign since January," said Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) leader François Legault, as he addressed a small crowd of supporters in Shawinigan, where he was scheduled to talk about the economy.

On Saturday, Premier Philippe Couillard announced the election campaign would formally kick off Aug. 23, meaning it will run for 39 days — the longest period allowed under provincial law — ahead of the Oct. 1 vote.

Couillard has said his Liberal Party wants more time to share its policy proposals with Quebecers.

However, political observers say Couillard also hopes the longer campaign time will put more pressure on Legault, whose CAQ party has been ahead in the most recent polls

"I don't think we've tripped up much since January, so I'm confident," Legault said, when asked about the 39-day campaign period. "I think it's an advantage because the party that can get the most [out] of having more time to explain who we are is the CAQ."

The CAQ is only six years old, Legault said, while the Liberals and the Parti Québécois have been around for decades. 

Couillard: Liberals want time to talk proposals

For his part, Couillard was in Trois-Rivières​ for the city's Grand Prix race. 

Speaking to reporters, he brushed off the assertion that he wants Legault to fumble during the campaign, and dismissed the recent poll numbers.

On Aug. 9, CBC's Quebec Poll tracker — an aggregation of all publicly available polls weighted by date, sample size and pollsters' track records — showed the CAQ with 34.8 per cent current support, compared to 29.7 per cent for the Liberals.

"For me, polling is the equivalent of astrology," Couillard said. "So we keep working on the ground … and I can tell you the reaction is good."

Couillard said voters can expect the Liberals to present "concrete proposals to make life better for all Quebecers in very, very specific ways," citing his party's promise to offer free daycare for four-year-olds as an example.

At the Trois-Rivières Grand Prix Sunday, Premier Philippe Couillard said his decision to have a 39-day election campaign aims to give his Liberal Party more time to talk about its proposals. (Radio-Canada)

The leaders of Quebec's other two main parties — the Parti Québécois's Jean-François Lisée and Québec Solidaire's Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois and Manon Massé — also made public appearances this weekend.

Lisée held an event in the Magdalen Islands, while Massé and Nadeau-Dubois were in the Outaouais region. 

Legault takes jabs at Couillard

In Shawinigan, Legault was flanked by 92 CAQ candidates as he outlined his desire to start the campaign strong. 

The former head of Air Transat, he said he would be a "premier for the economy" should he be elected.

Legault said he wants to diversify Quebec's exports and reduce the province's dependency on the U.S. for trade. He also said he wants to make the province's education and health sectors more efficient by ridding them of bureaucracy. 

He wouldn't say how many bureaucratic positions he would cut, but indicated the decisions could be made through "attrition."

Legault also said he doesn't want his campaign to hedge on adversarial politics, but took jabs at his main rival.

When asked what the tone of the election would be, Legault said, "you must ask Philippe Couillard."

"Today, I spoke to you about what we'll do [for the] economy, so it was not negative; it was constructive. I don't see that with speeches from Philippe Couillard. About every two sentences he pronounces my name."

With files from CBC's Cathy Senay