The question is not who will form the next government, but how many seats Coalition Avenir Québec will win on October 3.
You only have to look at the profiles and the stature of the candidates announced to understand who outrageously dominates the political scene and who has the momentum.
A sign that the polls are favourable, the CAQ filled up with major candidates or those firmly rooted in their community: Bernard Drainville (Lévis), Caroline St-Hilaire (Sherbrooke), Suzanne Roy (Verchères), Yves Montigny (René-Lévesque), Audrey Murray (Maurice-Richard), Pascale Déry (Repentigny), Sonia Bélanger (Prévost), and the prospective candidate Jonathan Lapierre (Îles-de-la-Madeleine) eloquently illustrate a party capable of recruiting candidates with established notoriety or with cutting-edge expertise. The CAQ also sends the message that it aims to make breakthroughs in regions where it is not represented.
On the side of the Liberal Party of Quebec and the Parti Québécois, the announcements that are slow to materialize—even in fortresses—are also indicative of the difficulties experienced by the “old parties”. Of course, there are some interesting profiles, but there are not many big names.
Due to support concentrated in the greater Quebec City region, Éric Duhaime's Conservative Party could spoil the race. Can he win more than one seat? That remains to be seen. One thing is certain, this division of the vote between the CAQ and the PCQ could allow Québec solidaire to sneak in and keep its two counties in the heart of Quebec City, where opposition to the third link is the strongest.
Québec solidaire will face a double challenge: to maintain its seats, but also to improve its lot with a deputation that has always grown from election to election. The party of Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois will undoubtedly want to concentrate its efforts in Montreal as well as in the strongholds near university campuses, where the young people most inclined to vote for them are concentrated.
The reasons behind the success of the CAQ
A few days before the election call, let us review the reasons that explain the success of the Legault government.
After having succeeded in running out of steam the sovereignist-federalist axis on which Quebeckers once defined themselves, François Legault now takes advantage of an impressive political repositioning, he whose party once represented the most right-wing fringe. With the revival of the Conservative Party of Quebec, since the coronation of Éric Duhaime, and with the migration to the left of the Liberals, the Coalition Avenir Québec now occupies the full centre of the political spectrum, where it fills up with voters. François Legault could hardly dream of a better posture.
The extended honeymoon is also based on nationalism covered in CAQ sauce: secularism, French language, immigration. Although they can divide, even polarize, the identity politics of the CAQ are evidently in tune with a majority. We will come back to this point.
But whatever the Premier thinks, the successes of his Coalition and its dominance in public opinion are also attributable to external components and rest on the tribulations of four parties in search of existence. Currently, the opposition vote is almost evenly distributed between the different parties, so none of them manages to exceed the 20% mark or find themselves in a competitive zone that would translate into seats. Consequence: even with 40% support—a level comparable to the 37% it had obtained in 2018—the CAQ could get its hands on 80% of the ridings.
The campaign has not yet started, so it could have some surprises in store. That being said, if the road to victory materializes for the CAQ, François Legault could accomplish a double feat on October 3:
- Crossing the bar of 100 seats out of the 125 in the National Assembly, a performance similar to that of Robert Bourassa, who won 99 seats in the 1985 election
- Become the first party to win two consecutive majority mandates since 1998
But beware, François Legault also has reason to worry about a phenomenon that all political formations fear: the “too high, too soon.” Starting the pre-election period with a stratospheric level of support comes with its own set of challenges. First, the CAQ will be the subject of group fire from other political parties, which will make it their main, if not only, target. Then, the media will certainly be tougher on those who risk taking most of the available seats in the National Assembly!
With the controversy surrounding its pre-election advertisements, the issues at the Horne smelter and an upsurge in COVID-19 cases in the middle of summer, the CAQ is experiencing a fairly hectic summer period. However, the polls published this morning show that these events had no impact on Quebecers’ inclinations.
Last spring, we will remember that Premier Legault pleaded for a “strong mandate” like the one recently obtained by his Ontario counterpart and friend, Doug Ford. However, when the will to change is weak and the outcome of an election is well known, voters tend to stay home on election day. Following an inevitable trend, the participation rate is likely to be starving. Above all, it risks compromising, in terms of the votes cast, the strong mandate that is claimed.
Minorities and majority
To reach the widest electorate and at the risk of displeasing the linguistic and cultural minorities of the province, François Legault proclaims himself defender of the majority with the success that this gives him.
While governments have a constitutional obligation to protect minority rights, this approach can have political repercussions. Talk to the Liberals of Philippe Couillard, who recorded a historic defeat in 2018 and who, even today under Dominique Anglade, visibly suffer from a disconnection with the French-speaking electorate.
On behalf of the majority of Quebeckers, he claims, François Legault never misses an opportunity to demand new powers in immigration from Justin Trudeau, failing which Quebec could, according to him, experience the same fate as Louisiana. He urges each of the political parties in Ottawa never to challenge Bill 21 in court. He strengthens the Bill 101. He does not hesitate to use the notwithstanding clause.
In doing so, François Legault chose to coax the majority to obtain … a bigger majority.
At the dawn of this electoral campaign, the NATIONAL team has planned a whole series of content to dissect and analyze this marathon until October 3. To make sure you don't miss anything about this campaign, follow us on our various platforms or contact your expert at NATIONAL who will be happy to guide you through this electoral adventure.