Quebec Liberal Premier Jean Charest, August 14, 2012.
Credits: MAXIME DELAND/AGENCE QMI
Legault said Monday that young Quebecers need to stop dreaming of the "good life" and take a cue from Asians to be more productive.
On the campaign trail in Quebec City on Tuesday, Charest said the comments were out of order, especially for a public figure.
"We can have debates in Quebec, but let no one tell me that Quebecers are not hardworking people. They are," Charest said.
Far from regretting his words, Legault stood by his comments on Tuesday and blamed parents for being too easy on their kids.
Charest also accused Legault of turning his back on promises made to the Action Democratique party when it merged with the Coalition Avenir Quebec, saying the leader is "not reliable."
Charest's change in target - from the Parti Quebecois to Legault's party - comes as recent polls show early gains by the CAQ, while the PQ still holds a large lead.
Meanwhile, the Parti Quebecois on Tuesday said it intends to introduce a secular charter to ban overt religious symbols from government institutions - including the wearing of crosses and hijabs.
PQ Leader Pauline Marois said the charter will be a guide for court decisions that deal with requests for reasonable accommodation.
"Quebecers of all origins feel like they have to compromise their values," Marois said at a news conference near Trois-Rivieres.
"We do not deny our past," she said, pointing out the contribution of religious institutions in Quebec. "We simply understand it is a time in our history. And from this point we believe that the neutrality of the state, the core values of equality between men and women, should guide us."
She said she understands such a charter may be seen to violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms - including articles on freedom of religion and multiculturalism - and said she wouldn't hesitate to use the notwithstanding clause.
"If it were to be challenged, for now it's a hypothetical question, but we will do the battle thing," Marois said.
- with files from Marianne White