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NEWS: A Quebec election during the ‘Printemps Erable’?

An election in Quebec must be held before the end of 2013 and most speculation in the media had suggested the election would take place in April 2013. Now, there is increasing speculation that the election may well take place next month, June 2012.

Today, the Globe and Mail reports, “Quebec Premier Jean Charest stepped up on Friday to present modest concessions to protesting students that were doomed to be rejected from the start. He offered to extend a planned $1,625 tuition hike over seven years instead of five, and to beef up student aid to include more middle-class families. At the same time, Mr. Charest said he would index the increase to inflation, adding a poison pill that made the offer even harder for students to swallow. With daily demonstrations now stretching long into the night and outbursts of vandalism and arrests, student leaders said the offer is unlikely to entice protesters away from their long-stated goal of getting the increase cancelled entirely.”

“Mr. Charest’s event was mostly aimed at the wider Quebec public, a healthy majority of which endorses the tuition hike but has a deep, long-standing well of disapproval for Mr. Charest’s overall job performance. Speculation the Premier is preparing an election platform opposing social strife hit a fever pitch this week, fuelled by backroom whispers and Mr. Charest’s campaign-style promotion of the Plan Nord, his economic development program for Quebec’s north. While seeking a new mandate from voters in the midst of student protests seems far from ideal, the other top political issue in Quebec is corruption – hardly a winning one for a government facing the spectacle of a public inquiry later this year.”

“Mr. Charest bitterly denied that he would use the student strike as an issue in an election… (But) Mr. Charest made similar proclamations in October, 2008, citing the economic crisis as a vital reason to avoid going to the polls. Three weeks later, his campaign bus hit the road. Students and opposition politicians certainly weren’t buying the denials this week.”

Council of Canadians trade campaigner Stuart Trew has noted that some of our allies in Quebec are now preparing for the possibility of a June election, with the thinking that Charest might even champion the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) in his campaign.

Notably, early last week National Post columnist John Ivision wrote, “From the (Harper) government’s point of view, a (CETA) deal in 2012 is crucial, particularly given the prospect of new provincial governments in Quebec City and Victoria who may be less sympathetic to the trade agenda.”

And just last weekend, the Toronto Sun reported, “Sunday’s (Earth Day) march (of more than 200,000 people), along with the massive demonstration in mid-March against tuition hikes and the almost-daily student protests across province, make it increasingly difficult to deny the contention among student leaders that the province is undergoing a ‘Quebec Spring’. The ‘Quebec Spring’ idea references the popular revolts over the past two years in countries in the Middle East and North Africa.” The Canadian Press has repored, “Many people at the march said they believed Quebec needs another quiet revolution, much like the movement in the sixties that brought sweeping changes to the province. They are calling for a ‘Printemps Erable’, a Quebec spring.”

Stay tuned.