What battle for Quebec? This election could make the CAQ even stronger

WEEKEND READ | Pollsters are predicting a landslide majority for François Legault’s party. But how many seats are too many, how strong is too strong?

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QUEBEC – Nobody bothered waiting for the starter’s pistol to sound.

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In the last few weeks, Quebecers have discovered the real meaning of the fixed date election law adopted in 2013 by the Parti Québécois government. The province has been in the midst of an election — complete with policy, posturing and policy — for weeks even if the actual campaign launch is not until Sunday, leading to a vote Monday, Oct. 3.

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One tradition, however, holds true. Before election campaign buses officially roll and the classic political “battle for Quebec” gets underway, Premier François Legault has to visit lieutenant-governor J. Michel Doyon in Quebec City to dissolve Quebec’s 42nd parliament and spark a general election.

He will do that Sunday morning after a final meeting of the cabinet which will adopt the election writ.

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After that, the big political parties — the fact there are five major players in the race is itself new — plus upstart smaller ones such as the Bloc Montréal and the Canadian Party of Quebec will be officially off to the races, wooing voters in 125 ridings over what will be a 36-day campaign.

Elections Quebec is already out there, shipping election posters and voting equipment to the ridings well in advance and training workers for the big day.

As was the case in the 2018 race, where the old sovereignty versus federalism debate was off the table, the focus in the coming weeks will be on the kind of government Quebecers want and who they feel is best equipped to lead them for the next four years.

And for many, these are penny-pinching times as prices soar, so that will be a factor.

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A recent poll by Angus Reid reveals Quebecers are “significantly concerned” with three issues: the cost of living, inflation and health care. The same poll reveals 52 per cent trust the governing Coalition Avenir Québec government for its handling of the economy.

As of this week, the emerging new hot election campaign issue is the growing number of violent incidents involving guns in the Montreal region.

For the CAQ, which enters the race having dominated the polls consistently for the last four years, the election is a kind of second chance to complete its electoral to-do list. On it are items that got dropped as the COVID-19 pandemic dominated the first mandate.

That explains the CAQ’s election slogan: Continuons. On a more personal political level, Legault wants to prove the coalition party he created 11 years ago is more than a flash in the pan.

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The fact that the CAQ is in such a strong polling position entering the campaign takes some of the suspense out of the race. The party currently holds 76 ridings compared to 27 for the Liberals, 10 for Québec solidaire, seven for the Parti Québécois and one for the Conservatives. There are four independents.

The latest Léger poll done for Québecor media shows the CAQ cruising to a second mandate. It pegs support for the CAQ at 44 per cent with the Liberals a distant second at 18 per cent. Québec solidaire is at 15 per cent, the Conservatives at 13 per cent and the PQ at 10 per cent.

The CAQ also leads the other parties in fundraising which will enable it to run a full-out campaign. The CAQ has raised $928,562 since the beginning of 2022. That puts the party almost $300,000 ahead of its nearest rival, the Parti Québécois, which has raised $654,150.

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CLOCKWISE, FROM TOP LEFT: PQ Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon; Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade; Conservative Leader Éric Duhaime; Canadian Party of Quebec Leader Colin Standish; Québec solidaire co-spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois; Bloc Montréal Leader Balarama Holness. Photo by The Canadian Press/Montreal Gazette files

Polling projection analyst Philippe J. Fournier, who runs the QC125 website, predicts that with this kind of support the CAQ could add 20 or more seats to its stable as the opposition parties sink deeper into oblivion. You need 63 seats to form a majority government and the CAQ could wind up with 97.

“It would take a catastrophic campaign on the part of François Legault and one by the opposition which greatly exceeds expectations to change this,” Fournier said in an interview.

“Every indicator that we have, voting intentions, government satisfaction, party financing, leader approval, everything points toward the CAQ. Usually you have some mixed signals but, this time, nothing. None of the opposition leaders are popular.”

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While there has been speculation Legault would prefer a safe front-runner-style campaign like his neighbour in Ontario, Premier Doug Ford — critics tagged it the Seinfeld election because it was about nothing — Fournier said with numbers like these Legault can afford to go on the offensive, chasing down in particular the remaining seven PQ-held seats in the regions. (Ford won 83 out of 124 seats in the election.)

It’s no coincidence that Legault will officially launch the CAQ campaign Sunday in the Saguenay–Lac-St-Jean region, specifically the PQ-held riding of Jonquière. Fournier says the only PQ riding which might resist the CAQ steamroller is Matane-Matapédia, held by Pascal Bérubé.

The whole first week of the campaign will be spent in the regions.

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But how many seats are too many, how strong is too strong? Some analysts, including Université du Québec à Montréal political science professor André Lamoureux, think the question is worth asking.

There’s a chance Quebec could wind up with a political landscape where one party dominates all and that is not a healthy democracy, Lamoureux said.

“If support for the CAQ keeps rising, to 45, 46, 47, 48 per cent, it could win 100 of the 125 seats,” Lamoureux said. “It would be total domination. This says a lot about the weakness of the opposition parties. People with diverse political views won’t have a voice in the National Assembly.”

He noted the last time a party formed the official opposition with less than 20 per cent of the vote was in 1919.

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Lamoureux has identified two factors weakening the opposition parties. He said the Liberals have forgotten that in order to win francophone votes the party has to pledge to fight for the Quebec nation. The PQ’s mistake was allowing the CAQ to dominate identity issues, which used to be the party’s bread-and-butter, he said.

Elections Quebec is already shipping election posters and voting equipment to the ridings well in advance and training workers for election day.
Elections Quebec is already shipping election posters and voting equipment to the ridings well in advance and training workers for election day. Photo by Pierre Obendrauf /Montreal Gazette

Besides the PQ losses, Fournier says about a dozen Liberal seats in its traditional Montreal fortress are in danger of flipping — especially if the traditional minority vote splits between the new parties on the scene: the Bloc Montréal led by Balarama Holness, the Canadian Party of Quebec with Colin Standish at the helm and Éric Duhaime’s Conservatives.

“It’s hard for these two parties now but the situation for the PQ is particularly dire as it could be wiped off the map Oct. 3,” said Daniel Béland, director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada. “The Liberals have little support among francophones and their numbers among non-francophones are not as good as they used to be.”

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QS, which managed to make inroads off the island in 2018, now has to defend that turf from challengers. The CAQ again is going full out naming high-profile candidates in the regions, including former Longueuil Mayor Caroline St-Hilaire positioned to run in the QS-held riding of Sherbrooke.

But while Legault believes more seats in Montreal are possible — the CAQ currently only has two — he faces other problems in his fortress region of Quebec City where Duhaime has been aggressively campaigning for weeks for the Conservatives.

Despite polls and pundits, election campaigns are unpredictable. As any politician will tell you, fame can be fleeting under pressure. The biggest minefield remains the televised leader’s debates.

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There will be two, both in French. The TVA “Face-à-Face” debate is Thursday, Sept. 15. The Radio-Canada debate is a week later, on Sept. 22. Plans for a televised English debate were scuttled when Legault and the PQ refused to participate.

As the incumbent, Legault will be the main punching bag on the campaign trail and in the debates. He has a short fuse and likes to pontificate and make off-the-cuff remarks which can get him in hot water.

Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade is untested. She starts the campaign in the same jam she has been in for months, desperate to shore up minority support but criticized for straying from the party’s nationalist roots and economic agenda.

A new father, QS co-spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois has youth, intelligence and charisma on his side but has to keep the party’s more radical elements under control.

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Media-savvy former radio host Duhaime is known as a skilled communicator and could be a particular threat to Legault. His distinct advantage in the campaign is that he has nothing to lose. His challenge is to broaden his base beyond being the vehicle for opponents of COVID-19 measures such as masks and vaccines.

PQ Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon’s challenge in the midst of all the opposition noise is to get noticed.

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What battle for Quebec? This election could make the CAQ even stronger Source link What battle for Quebec? This election could make the CAQ even stronger

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