July 10 (Reuters) – The premier of Quebec said he planned to stay in office and battle separatists who want independence for the French-speaking Canadian province, adding that he would not try to become prime minister of Canada.
Premier Jean Charest, a Liberal struggling to fend off allegations of scandal, only has a slim majority in the provincial legislature and his party trails far behind the separatist Parti Quebecois in opinion polls. The Quebec Liberals are not aligned with the federal Liberals, the main opposition party in Ottawa.
Charest complained in April about how difficult it was to be a politician, raising speculation he might quit early. But he told Canadian Broadcasting Corp. radio that he had fought four Quebec elections and wanted to take part in a fifth.
“It’s been four consecutive elections. I think five is a good number,” he said in an interview broadcast on Saturday. Charest retained power in a December 2008 vote and in theory could remain premier for five years before the next ballot.
PQ governments have twice held referendums on breaking away from Canada, in 1980 and 1995. Both failed.
Although PQ leader Pauline Marois has so far declined to outline her plans if she were to take power, party members would expect another referendum in her first term. Any serious hint that Canada might break up would likely hit both investor sentiment and the Canadian dollar.
Charest, 52, was once a star in the federal Progressive Conservatives, one of two movements that merged in 2003 to create the Conservatives, the party that currently governs in Ottawa through a minority government. He is sometimes mentioned as a candidate to eventually replace Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who took power in early 2006.
When asked whether he planned to run for prime minister, Charest replied: “No. I’ve been at this for 25 years and I’m very happy where I am. I have a great job that I enjoy.”
Whether he can stay in his post depends in part on a probe into allegations by a former Liberal justice minister who said some donors had influenced the naming of Quebec judges.
Charest set up the inquiry in April but dismissed demands by Marois for a separate probe into possible corruption in the powerful construction industry, which is a big contributor to Liberal coffers.
Charest told the CBC that Marois was “applying a scorched earth policy” in a bid to hurt the Liberals. (Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Frank McGurty)