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first_imgMONTREAL – After seeing his party’s lead in the polls evaporate, Coalition Avenir Quebec Leader Francois Legault tried to humanize his controversial position on immigration Thursday before hitting his Liberal opponent hard on secularism and corruption.Legault has been dogged over the past few weeks for repeatedly stating that immigrants who fail a French-language and values test cannot stay in Quebec — a stance that has allowed his rivals to paint him as heartless toward newcomers.In a previous debate Legault said he wasn’t planning on “expelling” citizens, but “people” who don’t pass the test.In Thursday’s third and last leaders’ debate, the Liberals’ Philippe Couillard brought up that comment, prompting Legault to try to neutralize the line of attack with what he called a “mea culpa.”“I am not perfect,” Legault said directly to Couillard. “It happens, I make mistakes, when I answer certain questions on immigration.“I listen, and I correct my mistakes.”But Legault didn’t specify exactly what he was talking about, nor did he renounce his position that newcomers should be forced to pass a French and values test if they want to stay in the province and become a citizen.After the debate, at least four journalists tried to get him to answer, yes or no, if immigrants would be “expelled” from Quebec if they fail a French-language test.“I want to ensure immigrants are well integrated,” he responded several times without answering the question.Legault did, however, brandish a new line he used three times Thursday night.“The only people I want to expel are the Liberals!” he said.After the testy exchange on immigration, the debate turned to another thorny issue: the secular nature of the Quebec state.Three of the four parties who have seats in the legislature want to ban certain state employees from wearing religious symbols on the job such as the hijab or the turban.Legault, in a one-on-one exchange with Couillard, accused the Liberal leader of ignoring the wishes of the majority of Quebecers.Polls indicate most citizens in the province want the state to ban people such as police officers and judges from wearing religious symbols at work.“Do you want a police officer to wear a hijab?” Legault asked Couillard, noting that people in positions of authority should be dressed in a religiously neutral way.Couillard responded by asking Legault, “Why do you want to remove people’s rights?”Legault shot back: “Why do you ignore the majority of Quebecers?”Because a society has to respect and defend its minorities and not legislate based on polls, Couillard said.“How many police officers are wearing hijabs right now?” he asked, knowing the answer is zero.Legault responded: “A premier needs to foresee things. It’s going to happen.”If Legault sounded feisty, Parti Quebecois Leader Jean-Francois Lisee raised many an eyebrow when he launched a strange tirade at Manon Masse, a co-spokesperson for the left-wing Quebec solidaire.Quebec solidaire has no official leaders but has Masse and Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois as co-spokespersons — and Masse looked somewhat frustrated as Lisee kept questioning her about who holds the real power in the party.“Who pulls the strings in Quebec solidaire?” Lisee asked, ignoring pleas from the debate moderator for him to stick to the subject of health care.Masse answered that in her party, “we learned how to share power.”The polls have suggested the fourth-placed Quebec solidaire has been gaining ground and could pick up seats at the expense of the PQ in Montreal.Toward the end of the night, the moderator brought up an issue that has dogged Couillard since he won the 2014 election: corruption allegations targeting the government of former Liberal premier Jean Charest.Quebec’s anti-corruption unit has confirmed publicly it was investigating Charest over alleged political fundraising allegations, and his former deputy premier, Nathalie Normandeau, is awaiting trial on fraud-related charges.“I think you have helped the Liberal family more than Quebec families,” Legault said.Couillard fired back, “name me one single case of corruption in my government.”The Liberals and Coalition are in a statistical tie, according to recent polls, after Legault’s party had been leading the opinion surveys for months.In his final statement, Legault addressed Quebecers directly and said: “Tonight I spoke to you with my heart.”“For me, the biggest quality of a premier is to love Quebecers,” he said. “That is why I have been able to put together an exceptional team.”Couillard told Quebecers to not break the momentum his party has created after several balanced budgets and surpluses.“Today, we are in a better position than yesterday and better prepared for tomorrow,” said Couillard, whose government has helped create more than 200,000 jobs in four years.“Our economy is one of the strongest in Canada. On Oct. 1, we have a choice: take advantage of our momentum or break it. To welcome talent or close ourselves off. To unite or to argue among ourselves.”last_img read more

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