It’s become the PQ’s Quebec election to lose
By Bruce A Stewart
Can you think of more compelling weekend summer television than four night of leaders’ debates during a Quebec election?
Snark aside, that’s what Quebeckers have in store this weekend. The first night will be an all-way “debate” in the typical style we’re all used to from our own provincial and federal elections.
Following that, on each of the next three nights, a head-to-head with pairs of leaders. These tap into a long-standing Quebec tradition of public debates to sway opinion.
It’s in those head-to-head sessions — the main commercial network, TVA, is displacing entertainment programming to air them in prime time — that the outcome of the Quebec election will probably be set.
By now, one thing is clear: “time for a change” is winning the day. The governing Libérals and Premier Jean Charest are on the defensive all across the province.
Please help us serve you better by filling out this brief survey form. We thank you for your feedback and your commitment to local online news.
Public opinion is gelling: you’ve been there too long, life didn’t get better under you, you’re probably corrupt, too.
Now, there are ridings in Anglophone Montréal that would vote for a cardboard box with a Libéral logo on it. (Charest’s own riding of Sherbrooke isn’t one of them: he is reported to be as much as 13 points behind his PQ challenger personally).
Across the province, though, the rise of the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) is coming more at the expense of the Libérals than the Péquistes at this point. The CAQ is up 7.4% province-wide.
What that’s doing is helping to solidify a PQ win — the sort of swings that happen in true three-way races.
But Pauline Marois, the PQ leader, is no barn burner in the minds of Quebeckers, either. At the moment she’s benefitting from the CAQ’s rise — mostly on an anti-corruption platform — and revulsion with the thought of more Charest than any positive approval of her or her party.
In other words, Quebeckers (other than those supporting Québec Solidaire, an even more separatist party than the PQ) aren’t voting for the separatist agenda. They’re voting for a change in government.
This is what makes the one-on-one debates so critical.
Legault’s CAQ is the biggest tent ever erected in Quebec politics, outclassing even the Union Nationale of Maurice Duplessis’ reign. It spans from small-c fiscal conservatives through the middle to ex-separatists who still have a commitment to social democracy.
Legault, in turn, is not the most dynamic stump speaker in history.
What these two things mean is that Charest and his Libérals, and Marois and her Péquistes, have mostly been able to define the CAQ just as much as Legault and his team have. There’s a lot of confusion, in other words.
There’s also a lot of interest. This election is extremely fluid.
Legault, in other words, has the opportunity going head-to-head with Charest and then with Marois, to define himself and his party — to become “the change people want”.
The “all-ways” starter debate will allow him to chart the CAQ between the other two: the one-on-ones will allow specific points to be hammered home. Those would be “fix the economy instead of playing separatist games” against Marois, and “end the corruption and deal with the health and welfare of the province” against Charest.
If Legault manages that, he’ll build on the ramp his party has been experiencing. Two more percentage points, and all of a sudden seats will start to tumble into his column away from the other two.
As Jack Layton showed us all in 2011, in Quebec, momentum builds.
By the seat models, the most likely outcome is still a PQ minority. But that’s shaky. (Mostly because the party itself is, in some fundamental ways. Losing this time might very well take the PQ into permanent minor party status.)
Quebec is rumbling. That’s why Quebeckers are going to open a Maudite and watch politicians yammer on a summer weekend night.
They’re ready to head into a second quiet revolution. Now all they need is the banner to follow.