Quebec political leaders gear up for first televised debate

Polls indicate that the Liberals and the PQ are locked in a virtual tie in popular support

MONTREAL – The leaders of Quebec’s four main political parties will square off tonight in an eagerly anticipated televised debate.

Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois, the Liberals’ Philippe Couillard, Coalition chief Francois Legault and Francoise David of Quebec solidaire will have two hours to make their pitch to voters.

The French-language clash on Radio-Canada and provincial public broadcaster Tele-Quebec is considered key because a large segment of the electorate is expected to tune in.

Analysts also argue debates are often the first time that voters really start paying attention to what the parties are saying and are a prime opportunity for leaders to connect with people.

Opinion polls indicate that the Liberals and the PQ are locked in a virtual tie in popular support, with the Coalition and Quebec solidaire in a distant third and fourth respectively.

Although Marois had initially said she would participate in only one debate, she and the other leaders will also face off again next week on TVA, the television network owned by star PQ candidate Pierre Karl Peladeau.

There will be no English-language debate.

The debates are considered a chance for the leaders to set the tone for the remainder of the campaign and a strong performance can energize a party’s troops.

The PQ has already been trying to shift attention away from its sovereignty agenda and the possibility of an unpopular referendum on independence.

Couillard, who has hammered the PQ on sovereignty, insists his real interest is the economy.

Legault, whose party is bleeding support if opnion polls are to be believed, is trying to get his message out that a vote for the Coalition is support for a party that has the interests of the middle class at heart.

David, whose straight-talking approach was praised after the 2012 election debate, is expected to focus on issues important to the Montreal area where her party’s strength is concentrated.

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