GATINEAU, Quebec — Saying it is time for Quebec’s “silent majority” to express itself in a year marked by massive and sometimes violent student protests, Premier Jean Charest announced Wednesday his province would head to the polls in early September.
Charest will be seeking a fourth mandate as premier of the French-speaking province in the Sept. 4 election. Polls have shown his party closely trailing the opposition, separatist Parti Quebecois. Quebec does not have set election dates.
Charest said Quebec’s people don’t recognize themselves in the violent acts perpetrated by the demonstrators, which he said caused economic and social turbulence. More than 2,500 people have been arrested since protests began over rising tuition fees in February in what became Canada’s most sustained protests ever.
Charest also criticized the PQ’s embrace of the protest movement.
Students also have protested an emergency law put in place to limit the demonstrations. The conflict caused considerable upheaval in the province known for having more contentious protests than elsewhere in Canada.
The students have slowed down their protest movement over the summer but said they would be active during the election to target districts where Liberal politicians will be seeking re-election.
Students have said their movement wasn’t tied to any particular political party. But in the days leading up to the election announcement, one former student leader said he would represent the Parti Quebecois in a district north of Montreal.
Charest said this was a clear indication of the PQ’s ties with the student movement. PQ leader Pauline Marois for some time wore the red square of the student movement during sessions of Quebec’s legislature.
Polls show the Quebecois were more likely to side with the government on the need for a tuition hike, but they were divided on the emergency law, which caused the protest movement to swell beyond its student base.