In Quebec, Charest’s Liberals and Marois’ PQ rocked by CAQ
By Bruce A Stewart
Canadians like to point to our multi-party system and preen in comparison to the United States, where there is no third answer to the question “Republican or Democrat?”
However, in almost every riding (federal or provincial) in Canada, what we really have are two-way races with a third party that’s only half as powerful (or less) than the two front runners.
Who fulfils which role varies from place to place. But all the questions asked by pollsters — including those that provide the inside data to the parties and campaigns — and all the models that convert percentages of support into seat projections — are based on our two-and-a-half politics.
Well, in Quebec this time around, the two-and-a-half model is broken. Three horses are nose to nose, smelling each others’ breath, as they make the far turn and head for the mid-campaign straightaway.
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What’s done this isn’t a charismatic leader. This isn’t about people coming to love a star (as happened in the 2011 federal election, when Quebeckers decided to take the beau risque and fell at the feet of Jack Layton).
Charest (the incumbent Premier and Liberal leader) isn’t loved. Marois, the PQ leader, is a frumpy harridan. Both are shining stars of celebrity culture by comparison to the CAQ leader, Legault (voted most likely to be alone in a corner at a cocktail party).
But Legault has seized this campaign, by doing politics as unusual. (There are lessons here for opposition parties across the country.)
Party leaders in Canada have fallen into the habit of making sure that no “star candidate” shines brighter than they do, that no competent minister gets more sunshine than does the Leader.
Legault has recruited strong, accomplished, charismatic stars that outshine him six ways to Sunday.
Party leaders choose cabinet ministers with a firm eye on regional balance. (They’ve also created bloated cabinets to accommodate the people of talent — in the junior ministry — when they come from the “wrong” region.)
Legault has announced each of his superior talent pool as “the future minister of…” — and it’s the senior role. When you get the province’s top anti-corruption fighter and say he’s got not only that file, but the justice system as well; a resource processing CEO and point him there; an experienced doctor to handle health, the party’s breaking the rules.
Legault also knows he’s got this small millstone around his neck: he’s a former PQ cabinet minister. So the promise is “no moves toward sovereignty as long as I’m premier”, “no referenda on my watch”. It started as a ten-year moratorium: now it’s an open-ended commitment. Liberal voters can feel safe. (Not to mention most of his team are avowed federalists.)
Despite absorbing the ADQ earlier this year, neither their nationalist stance nor their right-wing economics is making much headway in the Coalition Avenir Québec just yet. But the team includes the necessary piece parts to rein in spending and none of the promises being made should turn out to be a problem.
Despite not being a natural campaigner — wooden doesn’t begin to describe Legault — people are responding. His party has closed over half the gap with the PQ and Liberals in ten days — and in every region of Quebec. Almost every riding is now a true three-way battle.
Back to Cabinets filled with people as strong as the Premier? Ignoring “balance” in favour of talent? Not making the leader the be-all and end-all?
At this point, a PQ minority is still the expected outcome. But we’re at a tipping point: it will take very little to suddenly flip this election.
Not bad for a party expected to get a handful of seats, to suddenly be looking at seizing the day.