Quebec Libérals dying, PQ clinging, CAQ moving up
By Bruce A Stewart
Six days from now, Quebec will render its decision. That Jean Charest has gambled his Libéral government and lost is a given. Quebeckers had wanted to see the last of him for a while now, and not even his legendary campaign energy is pulling a rabbit out of this hat.
Blamed for Québec’s economic malaise, blamed for not fixing the province’s finances (he’s run on that for a decade, but taxes keep going up as do the debts), blamed for the swirling charges of corruption, and just a face that’s been around too long.
It looks, in fact, that he may even lose his own seat this time, although given his ability to squeak home personally that’s not a bet you should take with money you can’t afford to lose.
The Péquistes are, on the surface, the natural beneficiary of the desire for change. Indeed, on the polling data available, they are projected to eke out a bare majority.
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But that’s coming more from the Libéral slide than any great rush to the PQ. The share of Quebeckers stating an intention to vote Péquiste is at its lowest levels in many elections now — below even their losing runs of 2003, 2007 and 2008.
The usual 32-42% of Québécois who want separatism aside — and the PQ is polling only 34% (on a blend of all recent polls) at best — the province is not flocking to the PQ message.
Not to mention PQ leader Pauline Marois’ odd campaign. A heavy emphasis on why anyone who is not authentically “one of us” should be put down, pushed aside, made not to count. A shift of the party to a purely left-wing economic platform. No concern — period — for the province’s perilous finances.
Voters, therefore, from both the PQ and the Libérals, are flocking to the new Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ). The CAQ is in second place in French ridings; a strong and rising third across the province (the Libérals still dominate anglophone and strongly allophone ridings).
This is not because of the personal charisma and strong speeches by the CAQ leader, François Legault. Legault is something akin to a wet dishrag to listen to. He creates all the excitement of the members of a seniors’ centre discussing the great stump speeches of Louis St-Laurent.
It’s also not because the CAQ has a coherent, focused, better platform. Their promises are all over the map, reflecting the broad tent structure and newness of this party (formed less than a year ago, it merged the centre-right Action Démocratique du Quebec (ADQ) into itself in the spring).
But the promise to stick all mention of sovereignty on the shelf for a decade and focus on fixing Quebec — making sure the province loses its reputation as a corrupt place, sorting out the economy, solving the primary care crisis — is resonating, even though there’s grave doubt the CAQ can actually do anything about it.
Like the Federal NDP in 2011, the CAQ doesn’t have the resources in the ridings that the other parties have. They’re operating on a $4 million total budget, against two parties spending $11 million each.
But Quebeckers seem to be ready to make a second leap of faith to break out of the endless deadlock of separatist vs federalist to the exclusion of all else.
39% of those polled think the CAQ represent change — just 12% think the PQ does, and 9% the Libérals. In turn, 68% of Quebeckers say they want change. These are the same powerful forces that propelled so many novice NDP candidates to Ottawa last year.
Unlike this year’s Alberta election, Quebec’s major media isn’t all strumming from one song sheet, either. There’s no equivalent to the Calgary Herald working against Wildrose’s attempt to make history happening in Quebec — at least, not yet.
Many have yet to decide. It will not take much for on veut du changement! to turn on both the PQ and the Libérals alike — and send Quebec into a new opportunity to change forty years of drift.