The end of the Quebec election campaign: Towards a race for the official opposition
On Monday, October 3rd, the people of Quebec will vote for their next provincial government. While the Coalition Avenir Québec is headed for a majority mandate, the other parties are fighting to establish themselves as the official opposition in the Quebec National Assembly. Already 22.92% of the population has voted in advance, a historic high. Here is the state of play with less than a week to go before election day.
Coalition Avenir Québec
The Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) is expected to win a comfortable majority mandate, with a projected 92 seats (76 to 102). This majority would allow it to pursue its major projects, such as transportation with the 3rd link in Quebec City, and to fulfill its electoral promises, such as tax cuts for the first two levels of taxation, as well as its overhaul of the health care offer, such as home care and the opening of two private medical centers. The CAQ government would also have the ability to single-handedly appoint key public office holders requiring the approval of 2/3 of the National Assembly: the Ethics Commissioner, the Lobbyist Commissioner, the Chief Electoral Officer, the Public Protector and the Auditor General.
Nevertheless, the CAQ’s voting intention projections have been steadily declining since the beginning of the campaign, from about 43% to 38% by the end of the campaign. This is not enough to destabilize the party’s seat projections, however, given the division of the vote within Quebec’s five-party political system. This drop in voting intentions can certainly be attributed to the poor performance of leader François Legault in the two televised debates, although in the second debate his performance was more convincing. The CAQ is expected to take most of the regional ridings, including those in the Quebec City area, and may even steal some seats from the Quebec Liberal Party in the Montreal area. The CAQ’s typical electorate is older (55 and over) and therefore tends to vote more than younger voters, which gives it a clear advantage.
Quebec Liberal Party
The Quebec Liberal Party (QLP) is treading water, with 16% of voting intentions and 20 projected seats. Its vote is concentrated in the Montreal region and the Outaouais, which guarantees it a number of seats. However, due to the division of the vote, the QLP could lose some strongholds to the CAQ or Québec Solidaire, such as Verdun, Anjou-Louis-Riel and even Saint-Henri-Sainte-Anne, the seat of the leader Dominique Anglade. As much as some of the seats that are projected to be victorious are solid, others are rocky. His core constituency is certainly anglophone and allophone voters, although some of them are turning to the Conservative Party of Quebec, which may cause the party to lose some of the closer fights.
The QLP’s purgatory with the electorate does not seem to be over, if the current campaign is to be believed. The image of austerity and corruption of the Charest/Couillard years still sticks to it and it has not managed to regain its brand image as the party of the economy. Several of its prominent MPs have also jumped ship. Some of the QLP’s election announcements have been derided by the other parties, such as its ECO green hydrogen project, which would require the construction of several hydroelectric dams in order to be viable, as well as shortfalls of tens of billions of dollars in the presentation of its budget framework. The QLP is positioning itself to maintain its numerical position as the official opposition in the next legislature, but in terms of ideological opposition, it does not seem to have regained its bearings to hold that title. It must reconnect with francophones at all costs if it is to regain its former glory.
Québec Solidaire (QS) has run an excellent campaign and can aspire to the title of official ideological opposition to the CAQ for the next legislature. With 15% of voting intentions and a projection of 10 seats, three of them in pivot, the party would maintain its weight in the National Assembly. Party leader Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois has led two excellent televised debates and is perceived by the public as the best leader of the official opposition. The party’s decidedly left-leaning proposals contrast with those of the CAQ: an ecological transition plan of tens of billions of dollars, including massive investments in public transit, the suspension of the Quebec sales tax on essential products and the taxation of the ultra-rich, QS clearly stands out from the other parties.
QS can hope to make gains in some Montreal ridings where a three-way battle is emerging with the QLP and the CAQ. However, the party’s chances of making inroads outside of this region seem slim, given its proposals aimed squarely at urban, young and progressive ridings, its typical constituency. The party is being challenged by the CAQ, which would certainly like to see it become the official opposition with the fall of the QLP. In the eyes of the majority of the population, the QS’s social project is unrealistic and too left-wing. It would therefore be easy to govern with such an opposition for many years if the party did not re-centre itself. That is why Premier François Legault kept calling out QS with its “orange tax” on every platform during the campaign.
The Parti Québécois (PQ) was the only party to gain support during the campaign, thanks to an excellent performance by its leader Paul Saint-Pierre Plamondon in the two televised debates. The party’s voting intentions rose from 10% to 14% for a projection of 3 seats (1 to 9). The low concentration of the vote explains the low number of seats projected, but the PQ is nonetheless the second choice of more than a quarter of voters, and its leader is almost as well regarded as Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois of Québec Solidaire as leader of the official opposition. What could be decisive for the party and its media attention in the next legislature is the election of its leader in the riding of Camille-Laurin, in the east end of Montreal. This riding was the subject of a heated three-way battle between the CAQ, QS and the PQ. But the QS candidate withdrew her candidacy following a controversy over the theft of a CAQ pamphlet from a constituent’s mailbox. The PQ is now tied with the CAQ in the polls.
The PQ proposes similar measures to QS on the environment, transportation and social issues in general. However, it is closer to the CAQ on identity issues, as it proposes to significantly reduce the number of newcomers and wants to make Quebec independent. The party has been more discreet on the latter issue, however, and has yet to present the year-one budget for Quebec independence that it had promised. The PQ and its social democratic agenda may be the next official ideological opposition to the CAQ, but it will have to sell the independence aspect of its agenda to the public in order to do so.
Conservative Party of Quebec
The Conservative Party of Quebec (PCQ) was the dark horse of the campaign, having gone from being a fringe party to amassing a huge number of supporters and donations since 2020. The party had hoped to make a triumphant entry into the National Assembly by electing several MNAs, including its leader Éric Duhaime in the Quebec City riding of Chauveau. Expectations are now lower for the party, which failed to distinguish itself during the campaign despite its resolutely right-wing proposals. Its voting intentions remained at around 15% during the campaign, but it is not projecting the election of a candidate at this stage. However, the fight is close with the CAQ in the ridings of Beauce-Nord and Beauce-Sud, on the south shore of Quebec City. There is a major generational divide, with young people overwhelmingly supporting the PCQ (around 63.9% of those aged 44 and under) and older people overwhelmingly supporting the CAQ (around 55.7% of those aged 45 and over).
The PCQ resolutely advocates a disengagement of the state from the lives of citizens, by deregulating several state missions such as childcare centers, by reducing personal taxes and by resorting to the private sector in health care to facilitate access to care. The PCQ represents the other side of the same coin as QS, namely the anti-system vote. The future of the party seems uncertain, as it has gained support particularly with the pandemic and sanitary measures. Especially since the leader Éric Duhaime is not projected to win in his riding. The greater Quebec City area seems to be a foregone conclusion for the PCQ, but will it be able to establish itself elsewhere without media visibility for its leader?
There is no doubt that the Coalition Avenir Québec will be elected with a strong majority for the 43rd legislature of the Quebec National Assembly. However, it is important to note how deep the rift caused by the end of the Quebec independence issue is. The opposition is divided for the first time among four parties, and none of them appear to be in a position to compete with the CAQ, which has coalesced former PQ, QLP and ADQ voters to fill the void. The CAQ is also taking advantage of the shortcomings of the first-past-the-post system to gain an inordinate number of seats compared to its voting intentions. Voters will have the opportunity to determine which party will form the next government, but more importantly, the next official opposition.