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Mid-campaign analysis: Quebec

When Yves-François Blanchet became the Bloc Québécois’ new leader in January 2019, inheriting a party left in ruins by Martine Ouellet and following the historical defeat of the Parti Québécois in the provincial election, his fortunes seemed rather grim. Yet today, the Bloc leader is sailing towards significant gains in Quebec, which would deprive the Liberals and Conservatives of seats they desperately need to form the next government or to obtain a majority, and which would practically wipe the NDP off the map.

The latest Léger poll gives 37 per cent of the votes to the Bloc among francophone voters, against 24 per cent for the Liberals. A scenario that seemed improbable just a few weeks ago, but that signals the beginning of a whole new campaign.

After being ignored by Liberals, Conservatives and New Democrats altogether, the Bloc is now under the crossfire. The party’s slow but steady rise picked up speed after the first televised debate. Historically, trends observed in the second half of an election campaign rarely run out of steam. On the contrary, they tend to gain momentum. And nothing happened in the last French-language debate that should change this trajectory.

How can such a success, such a turnaround, be explained? It seems like the Bloc was able to embody the nationalist vibe that has swept over Quebec since the election of the Legault government. The party was able to achieve this while staying away from the sovereigntist discourse that Quebecers have grown wary of.

Did the Bloc reached its ceiling? Can it climb further? One thing is certain: the BQ vote has become “efficient”, with each additional percentage point translating into new seats in the House. The Bloc is thwarting the plans of the two main parties seeking to govern the country. Its impact is undeniable.

It would be simplistic to think that the Bloc will only be grabbing seats from the NDP. Currently, the Bloc could steal seats from the New Democrats as well as from the Liberals. Furthermore, it could be involved in three-way battles with unpredictable outcomes. Ironically, the LPC could lose some ridings to the Bloc, while still taking one or two seats away from the Conservatives also thanks to the Bloc. It’s difficult to speculate any further, as the electorate has been too volatile over the last few days to formulate any hypotheses.

The last 10 days of the campaign may see some parties change strategies in Quebec. Will they be desperate attempts, as voters’ intentions are starting to gel? Will it be too little, too late, now that the advance polls are open?

One thing is clear: the mood of Quebec voters is now generating national suspense and making this election unpredictable. That’s what happens when you forget to check your blind spot.

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Written by John Sparks

Mid-campaign regional analysis: the Prairies
October 11, 2019