The Parti Québécois is trying to bolster a faltering campaign with a new wedge issue on Quebec identity, accusing Ontarians and other Canadians from outside Quebec of trying to steal the provincial election. PQ Leader Pauline Marois went to a sugar shack and left the main campaign spotlight to three of her candidates Sunday. They held a news conference at PQ headquarters to demand an investigation over an influx of voters – frequently young anglophone university students – who are trying to register for the April 7 vote. “Will the Quebec election be stolen by people from Ontario and the rest of Canada?” said Bertrand St-Arnaud, the Justice Minister and PQ candidate in Chambly. “The coming week is crucial for democracy.”
Tales of stolen votes are part of nationalist lore in Quebec, where sovereigntists remain bitter about the loss of the 1995 referendum by a few thousand votes – famously attributed to “money and some ethnic votes, essentially” by Jacques Parizeau. Separatists say federalists rigged voting by overspending and by churning out new citizens just in time for voting day. Federalists counter that electoral officials sympathetic to Quebec independence rejected thousands of good “No” ballots.
Just a few days ago, Pierre Karl Péladeau, the star PQ candidate and Canadian media baron, said the 1995 referendum was stolen.
Amid poll numbers showing Liberals moving ahead, the PQ is struggling to drag the campaign back to the identity issues that gave the party a surge in popularity over the past year. The first weeks of the campaign were instead occupied with debates over Quebec independence – a topic unpopular with most voters.