Live-blogging the Québec debates: Charest v. Marois

I’ll be (hopefully — giving my French quite a test!) live-blogging tonight’s hourlong debate between Québec’s premier since 2003, Jean Charest, the leader of the centrist, federalist Parti libéral du Québec (Liberal Party, or PLQ) and Pauline Marois, the leader of the leftist, sovereigntist Parti québécois (PQ). 

Last night featured a four-way debate, tomorrow will see a debate between Charest and François Legault, leader of the newly formed Coalition avenir Québec (CAQ), and Wednesday will bring the final debate between Marois and Legault.  Québec’s voters go to polls on September 4 to choose 125 members of Québec’s Assemblée nationale

Read Suffragio’s prior coverage of the Québécois election here.

So that was exciting! Jean Charest, so smiley in the Sunday night debate, sneered throughout tonight’s debate.  Whether on corruption, on tuition fees, on Plan Nord, on debt, on sovereignty, Charest went on the offensive all night long in a very aggressive manner (“Madame Marois! Madame MAROIS!”).

I’m not sure that will play so well with viewers, but it’s clear there’s no love lost here and that Charest knows he’s behind, and that he’s going to have to fight back against both the PQ and the CAQ in order to win the election.

Marois looked poised and more measured, even when playing offense.  But her party still has no clear competing budget plan, and she’s still not being clear on whether she’s seek a referendum if the PQ wins in two weeks.

I’m not sure whether the debate will have changed any minds — Charest looked angry and evasive and aggressive, and Marois still has no answer when it comes to the biggest doubt voters have about her party winning office.

Tomorrow night, we’ll see Charest and Legault — if anything, Charest has been more aggressive in his attacks on Legault in the past week or so, so I think it’s very likely we’ll see the fully adversarial Charest tomorrow as well.

Full live blog below the jump.

* * * * 

21:02.  A more intimate setting tonight than last night, with the two candidates sitting at a table, which may lead to a less confrontational hour.

21:03.  Charest is trying to make the leadoff question on governance and corruption an issue that generalizes to each party, as he did last night in implicating the PQ in past corruption scandals.

21:06. Fireworks immediately over the Charbonneau inquiry, which alleges that the PLQ traded government contracts for construction in exchange for political funding.  Marois snaps back that Charest cannot give her lessons in integrity.  Snappy, snappy!

21:07. Charest is lecturing Marois on leadership, now.  A bit aggressive!

21:08.  Marois is comparing Charest to mafioso. Charest has brought up the prior Moisan inquiry into PQ scandals.

21:11. Charest looks like a mix between Gordon Brown, circa 2010 and Richard Nixon in the Frost/Nixon interviews.  The longer he spends litigating Charbonneau, the worse for him.

21:16. Charest tonight is as far away from the sunny figure he cut at the beginning of his career as the red-haired leader of the federal Progressive Conservatives. So angry. No smiles tonight.

21:17. Round one to Marois. Charest looked unhinged. Now on to tuition fees!

21:19. Charest is now accusing Marois of irresponsibility on student fees. Same technique as before. Angry and aggressive!

21:20. Charest is standing up for the rights of students to learn, however few want to learn and attacking Marois for enabling the tumult that led to cancelled classes in Montreal last spring.

21:22. Marois calls Charest divisive and affronting to students.

21:27.  On to health care.

21:29.  Charest takes an issue on which he should be on the defensive, in this case health care and a failure to reduce wait times, and plays offense. It’s really the story of the night so far.

21:31. On to the economy!

21:35, “C’est fou, Madame Marois! C’est fou!”

21:36. Back to anger-bear Charest. This time on hydro rates.

21:40. Marois talking about Plan Nord.  With the debate two-thirds over, and we haven’t gotten to the sovereignty question yet, which could be the most animated topic yet.

21:42. Going back to the last exchange, it’s really a tale of two governments: Marois can attack the PLQ government of the last decade, Charest the PQ government of the 1990s.  Neither government has significantly reduced the size of the state in Québec.

21:43. Almost three-fourths done and no question on a referendum on independence. Staggering.

21:45. Charest is reading his notes on the Plan Nord question. Not exactly his finest moment.

21:45. Here we go! Referendum!!

21:48. Marois calls out Charest for not having a clear stance on the national identity question. I’m sure he will have a strong answer….

21:50. Charest is relatively even-handed on this issue. So far.

21:51. Never mind. The gloves, errr, veils are back off as they discuss the anti-veil bill and which side is more discriminatory.

21:53. French is not fading in Québec! Says Charest! Attacks PQ’s politics of division.

21:55. Whether you’re anglophone or francophone, it’s very odd (at least for American ears) to hear a major political leader say that there’s not enough French being spoken on the streets of Montreal.  It’s been said that what race is to the United States, what class is to the United Kingdom, language is to Québec. That’s still true, I think, even in 2012. Marois: “La langue française aurait besoin d’un gouvernement qui s’en occupe un peu.”

21:56. Marois won’t directly answer whether she’ll seek a referendum on Québec independence.

21:59. Charest is right that Marois is creating undue uncertainty by not giving a straight answer on the referendum question.

22:00. And that’s a wrap!

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