DRUMMONDVILLE, Que. - The head of the upstart Coalition for Quebec's Future tried Saturday to frame the election as a two-way race between his party and Pauline Marois' Parti Quebecois.
Francois Legault took a page out of Premier Jean Charest's playbook, warning a vote for anyone but the Coalition would result in a PQ government — and the prospect of another referendum.
"The reality of the situation is that only the Coalition is positioned to block a new referendum," said Legault, referring to a poll on Friday that suggested less than 30 per cent of Quebecers want another referendum.
"The Coalition has a standing chance today to form a government, and if you intend to vote how you traditionally did you're actually voting for a referendum."
With only two days of campaigning left before election, Legault is trying to build enough momentum to frame the ballot question as a choice between his party and the PQ.
Recent polls suggest the PQ are ahead of both the Coalition and Charest's Liberals, which sit in third.
For his part, Charest also tried to play the referendum card on Saturday as he made stops in several rural ridings.
The only difference between Marois and Legault is "the date of the referendum," he said, adding that Legault's refusal to side with federalists shows what side he's really on.
Meanwhile, Marois tried to reassure those concerned about the prospect of her sovereigntist party returning to power.
At a campaign stop outside Montreal, an English school board member confronted Marois over a portion of her plan to strengthen the province's landmark language law, Bill 101.
Her party has pledged to put limits on who can attend English junior college, known as CEGEP. Immigrants and francophones would be required to attend CEGEP in French under the PQ's policy.
"We try to give a chance to all our francophone community here, and if you win we won't have the opportunity to serve our community," Chuck Halliday told Marois, when she came up to shake his hand at a market in the suburb of Chateauguay.
Marois, somewhat taken aback, replied, "Ah... We'll find ways to get along."
Later, she told reporters she would work to improve education for English-speaking Quebecers, without going into specifics.
"I think we should help English school boards... better serve the English speaking community, and in that sense, we won't let them down," she said.
With the election only days away, voters are giving the PQ's plans a closer look — and some people are getting worried.
Marois has been roundly criticized in several media outlets for suggesting that immigrants would have to prove their French skills before running for elected office.
Her plan to create a Quebec citizenship has drawn further concerns from certain minority ethnic groups. Anglophone media have repeatedly described her campaign as xenophobic.
An English-language rights group organized small rallies in Montreal and Quebec City for Saturday against the PQ and its plan to strengthen Bill 101.
In setting his sights squarely on Marois and the PQ, Legault wants his party to appear as the more inclusive option.
At a large mid-afternoon rally in Drummondville, where Legault's Coalition showcased its candidates from across the province, the party leader didn't pause to mention the Liberals once.
The CAQ leader, a former PQ cabinet minister who wants to put the independence question on ice, has also begun delivering larger sections of his speeches in English as his effort to make inroads in the anglophone community appear to be bringing results.
On Saturday the largest English-language daily in the province — the Montreal Gazette — recommended its readers vote CAQ. The paper's editorial board argued that if the province was going to change governments, better them than the PQ.
Though Legault himself hasn't shied away from ethnic stereotypes — comparing young Quebec students to their hardworking Asian and Jewish counterparts — he seized on the chance to portray Marois as close-minded.
"She thinks the validity of a citizen has to be measured in terms of our love for Quebec," he said. "She'll be the one who decides if we are a good, or a bad, Quebecer."
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Marois, you don't have a monopoly on the love for Quebec," he added, repeating a line he used during a televised debate with Marois.
- with files from Patrice Bergeron, Martin Ouellet, Jonathan Montpetit and Alexandre Robillard