Quebec Liberals, PQ both worry about the CAQ
By Bruce A Stewart
Québec is ready for a rare summer election. It’s expected that Premier Jean Charest will soon announce the vote, expected for early September.
Charest can run the clock out for another full year. But corruption investigations are ongoing, and the government was shaken by the protests — originally by students, but spreading to the poorer sections of Montréal — that have taken control of the streets this spring and summer.
Charest’s Liberals are looking for a rare fourth term (the last to do this was Maurice Duplessis). Tied with the PQ in the polls, it’s not likely to get better for him — so Quebeckers will vote this year.
What worries both the Liberals and the PQ is Québec’s new third party, the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ). Under the leadership of former PQ cabinet minister François Legault, this party earlier this year absorbed the right-of-centre Action Démocratique du Québec, at one time the official opposition in the province.
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A party that stretches from right of the Liberals into the social democratic space normally occupied by the PQ is a very big tent indeed.
So far, that size has kept Quebeckers interested, but unwilling to commmit. The CAQ led the polls coming into 2012, but since merging in the ADQ has fallen back to a strong third place while the party tries to sort out where it stands, issue by issue.
From Charest’s point of view, the CAQ is dangerous. Top of its issue list is an anti-corruption drive (similar in nature to the way Stephen Harper saw off the Martin Liberals in 2006 in the wake of the Gomery findings). Second on their list, right behind, is the state of the Québec economy (best described as dismal and sinking fast).
That’s Quebeckers’ number one worry. Not the federalist-separatist endless debate that’s dominated the province’s politics since the early 1970s.
The CAQ has a formal pledge to refuse to consider sovereignty issues for a decade once elected. Even though the CAQ represents former Péquistes, former Liberals and former ADQ supporters, it’s primarily a party about the economy.
So Charest has been trying to paint Legault, the CAQ leader, as a “secret separatist”.
Pauline Marois, the PQ leader, on the other hand, has been painting Legault as a “secret federalist”.
You know you have the big guns worried when they’re both after you!
The latest polling data for the province is interesting. The raw province-wide average of last month’s polls shows a 32.5% Liberal, 32.1% PQ and 19.6% CAQ (with the rest scattered over the minor parties). That projects into a minority for Charest: 60 PLQ, 55 PQ, 8 CAQ and 2 for the far-left separatist party Québec Solidaire.
The CAQ’s number one issue keeps them from teaming long with the Liberals. The CAQ’s economic prescriptions keep them from teaming long with the PQ. That’s unsettling enough.
Recent internal polls for the CAQ done by leading Québec polling firm CROP, on the other hand, show the CAQ at 24% and rising — and 28% amongst francophones. What’s more, that vote is nicely concentrated, so the seat counts could flip dramatically.
The electorate, in other words, is up for grabs — and if Legault can weather the combined storm the Liberals and the PQ will unleash on him and bring a coherent economic platform to the table, he’ll suddenly be le beau risque for Québec.
We all know what happened in 2011, when Jack Layton suddenly became that.
Quebeckers are acutely aware that their province is flat broke, that the economy is in the dumpster, and that without economic prospects their children will leave (as happened in the late 19th century, when half the population moved to New England — and assimilated). They are tired of Charest. For some, that will mean putting the PQ back in power.
The rest are ready for a real change.