The confrontation between François Legault, the leader of CAQ and Pauline Marois the leader of the PQ was heated as many expected. In the early part of the debate the fact that both parties have skeletons in their funding closet led to the issue of corruption being given only a short exposure in the debate. There was a much more extensive and heated exploration of health care with Marois once again insisting that Legault was making unrealistic promises to fix the problems in the system and Legault insisting that she was trapped in a dysfunctional status quo because she was stuck in the past and too close to the unions. a similar short of discussion took place on economic policy, employment and debt management. Legault also faulted Marois for not having a full costing of her program ready for scrutiny.
The debate was often rather acrimonious making it difficult for viewers to follow. Once it turned to cultural and national identity things got rather interesting. Legault went to great lengths to pin Marois down about the timing of a referendum. Marois was less evasive than in the past more or less admitting that party militants who he compared to the caribou leading the herd over a cliff, apparently a familiar analogy in PQist circles, could organize a petition which once it received 15 % support in the population would trigger a referendum. At one point Legault called this irresponsible because it would trigger a referendum at a time when support was low and would likely result in a disastrous(for the sovereignists) third loss.
This was interesting because it revealed both Marois’s intentions and the conditional nature of Legault’s position on sovereignty. For the moment he is, as he admitted, neither an advocate of sovereignty nor a defender of national unity but a Québec nationalist. Marois quickly counter attacked and raising the old separatist strategy of couteau à la gorge invented by Stéphane Dion’s father Lion Dion, argued that without any sort of threat Quebec’s PM would weaken its bargaining position with Ottawa(Prime Minister Harper and Mr.Mulcair please take note)
For we political junkies a fascinating debate between two former sovereignist stars. Legault did rather well I thought but for the most part Marois seemed unruffled even when she clearly was losing the argument. We shall now see how these three debates plus the original 4 party leader debate play in the polls. Charest did well enough to keep him close to the lead and Marois shored up her base against Quebec solidaire but it may well come at the expense of her overall total and it also firmed up the base of support among voters determined to stop her from becoming Premier by voting strategically come election day.