Parti Québécois

Chantal Hebert
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Walking home from Radio-Canada on Sunday I chanced upon the dilapidated former bus terminal where Quebec's election officials have set up shop to revise the electoral list for the downtown Montreal riding of Sainte-Marie-Saint-Jacques. There was not another soul in sight.

Appearances can of course be deceiving.

As eerily quiet as it may have seemed from the outside, the riding's elections headquarters was nevertheless deemed to be ground zero for an impending threat to Quebec democracy by no less than the outgoing minister of justice of the Parti Québécois.

According to Bertrand St-Arnaud, who rode in to Montreal early Sunday to sound the alarm, the April 7 election was at risk of being stolen by the rest of Canada. Hordes of out-of-province university students were determined to storm the bureaucratic gates of the election registration offices to sign up to vote for the federalist Liberal party.

In the absence of physical evidence that Canada's foot soldiers were on the march, I concluded that the minister must be keeping information from the public, the better to prevent a full-fledged panic.

Given how well-versed today's students are in the ways of Harry Potter, it seemed fair to assume that they had cleverly donned an invisibility cloak to take Quebec by stealth.

How else could any group of the size required to change the outcome of the vote in my inner city neighbourhood manage to go about unnoticed?

Sainte-Marie-Saint-Jacques is a riding where, on a good year, the Liberals place third, thousands of votes behind the PQ and the second-place Québec Solidaire. Two other Montreal ridings alleged to be at risk by the péquiste (a supporter of the Parti Québécois) brain trust have a long and solid Liberal history.

Upon verification, Quebec's chief electoral officer Jacques Drouin reported that there was no evidence that anything was amiss in any of the five ridings alleged to be under siege. There are marginally more English-speaking students seeking to register than in the 2012 election, but in an election that has turned into a referendum on a future referendum and amidst campus campaigns to promote the student vote, the opposite would have been more surprising.

Drouin also told RDI, Radio-Canada's all-news network, that a party had misled him into thinking that something was off. He would not name names but Le Devoir - the paper that broke the initial story - pointed the finger at the PQ in its Monday edition.

With every passing day, the PQ campaign seems more inclined to shoot indiscriminately at anything that moves. Last week, the lead minister on the secularism charter urged Quebecers to support the PQ or else expect to have government services dispensed by employees wearing burkas and niqabs.

The day before the debate, the minister responsible for the status of women was hauled out to accuse Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard of trying to intimidate Pauline Marois for warning that he would give as good as he got on ethics if and when the issue came up in the debate.

The weekend's wild tale of impending election robbery, delivered for the sake of achieving more gravitas by the justice minister, was designed for maximum impact provincewide.

It ultimately boiled down to the latest PQ variation on the theme of cultural insecurity.

It remains to be seen whether more of the same is in store for the last two weeks of the campaign.

What is certain is that the pack of attack dogs intent on fear-mongering that the PQ is turning into in this campaign bears little resemblance to the straight-shooting party that René Lévesque founded in the flower-child era of the late 1960s.

If the erratically aggressive body language of the PQ is not the result of a panic attack induced by the prospect of a possible defeat, then the first order of business of a re-elected péquiste government should be to have all the mirrors in the national assembly covered so that, post-election, its leading members do not have to look at themselves.

Chantal Hébert is a national affairs writer. Her column is distributed by Torstar Syndication Services.

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