‘No comment’: PQ candidate refuses to explain past comments on Jewish community

Parti Québécois Leader Jean-François Lisée and candidate Michelle Blanc speak to reporters during a campaign stop in Montreal, Saturday, September 15, 2018. Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

A Parti Québécois candidate invoked Sir Winston Churchill on Saturday as she refused to explain controversial comments she made online about Montreal’s Hasidic Jewish community several years ago.

Michelle Blanc cited the former British prime minister, who she called “perhaps the greatest politician of the 20th century” as she repeatedly answered “no comment” to a series of questions from reporters.

“There’s a politician I admire, called Winston Churchill, who had an expression he liked a lot and used often: ‘no comment,”’ she said.

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Blanc has drawn criticism throughout the campaign for her controversial social media posts, including a 2007 blog post in which she said it would be easier if the Hasidic community disappeared from her view.

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In 2011, she wrote on Twitter about having forgotten to celebrate Adolf Hitler’s birthday — a post later ascribed to “dark humour.”

At her first campaign event since the posts emerged, Blanc refused to address the controversy, saying that party leader Jean-François Lisée had already spoken on her behalf.

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Lisee, who had called a news conference to discuss the party’s digital strategy, instead found himself defending his candidate’s right to criticize religions as she sees fit.

“We believe in the right to have a religion, to practice a religion, and to criticize a religion,” he said.

He refused to explain further, backing Blanc’s Churchillian decision to refuse all comment.

“If it’s good enough for Winston, it’s good enough for Michelle,” he said.

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PQ leader throws support behind Robert Lepage – Aug 28, 2018

Elsewhere on the campaign trail, Coalition Avenir Quebec Leader Francçois Legault continued to fight back against criticism of his party’s plan to reduce immigration.

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Legault told reporters in Cap-Santé, west of Quebec City, that the media and Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard were blowing the issue out of proportion and that average Quebecers were more interested in hearing about health care or how to get more money in their pockets.

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Couillard insisted it was Legault who was bringing the issue into the spotlight in an attempt to gain votes.

“It’s the only explanation,” he said at a campaign stop on Day 24 of the campaign.

The Liberal leader also took a partial page out of the playbook of left-wing party Québec solidaire with a promise of free tuition for certain groups of students.

If re-elected on Oct. 1, his party would abolish tuition for all students enrolled in a part-time technical program that leads to a college-level diploma, Couillard said Saturday.

Québec solidaire has already promised to bring in free education from daycare to university.

— With files from Stephanie Marin in Montreal, Patrice Bergeron in Cap-Santé and Caroline Plante in Quebec City

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