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Regional battleground: Quebec

Quebecers are strategic voters. Historically, they had no qualms supporting Pierre Trudeau federally and René Lévesque provincially—contradiction was considered a type of insurance policy. The 2011 Orange Wave that catapulted the late Jack Layton’s NDP to the status of Official Opposition also began in the province.

Gaining Quebecers’ confidence will be key to the 2019 election. Here are the main narratives that will influence votes.

Will Trudeau regain voters’ trust?

Still leading province-wide, the Liberal Party appears to be in the driver’s seat due to its success in the population-dense Greater Montreal Area. However, it has failed to connect with rural and remote voters on issues key to last year’s Coalition Avenir Québec victory, namely immigration, border security and asymmetric federalism. Some voters may also ask why the Liberals have not balanced their budget with a seemingly strong economy. Millennial urbanites may be wary of giving a second term to a government whose pipeline purchase blew hot and cold on the environmental issue, and that reneged on electoral reform and the foreign digital services sales tax. The Prime Minister has to hope that his mixed record of progressive policies and sound economic performances will be buoyed by his remarkable campaigning abilities.

Who will capitalize on renewed nationalist pride?

Used to winning mandates without real support in Quebec, the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) has made major inroads thanks to Quebec lieutenant Alain Rayes’ exceptional groundwork. The former mayor with deep connections has helped recruit a bevy of high-profile candidates. By relentlessly advocating for border security and being open to Premier François Legault’s policies on immigration and state secularism, the Conservatives have a prime opportunity to make a breakthrough in certain parts of the province. However, the lingering unpopularity of the previous conservative administration could hurt their chances.

The CPC will not be the only party courting this segment. Rejuvenated since last year’s internal crisis, the Bloc Québécois is in its most competitive state since 2011 and is ready to return to prominence, with the simple-yet-bold message, “What Quebec wants the Bloc wants.” Its new leader, Yves-François Blanchet, is a pugnacious former Quebec Cabinet Minister, whose stint as a popular political pundit should give him an edge during TV debates.

Finally, former CPC Cabinet Minister Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party won’t likely be shaking things up. His own seat is potentially in danger in the riding of Beauce, where he could fall to star Conservative candidate Richard Lehoux. Bernier’s strong opposition to supply management in a largely rural constituency could cost him dearly.

Which party will seduce the left-of-centre?

Two contrasting narratives are unfolding:

On the one hand, the NDP is struggling mightily. The goodwill inherited from the Orange Wave lost strength with “Niqab Gate” and has since virtually disappeared. Its new leader, Jagmeet Singh, is a charming politician, who could truly challenge PM Trudeau on personality alone. However, as a turban-wearing practicing Sikh, he faces nearly impossible odds in a province where secularism is strong. The steady erosion of NDP support is one of the biggest intangibles of this campaign. The 2011 coalition comprised union workers, urban environmentalists and sovereigntists. At this time, it appears unlikely that any of these groups’ support remains. Where they end up will likely play a huge role in determining the winner of the election.

On the other hand, Green Party support has grown steadily across Canada, including in Quebec, where they earned a surprising third place in the 2019 Outremont by-election. Legitimately concerned about environmental matters, Quebecers have tasked their politicians—including Premier Legault—to disrupt the status quo and come up with real measures to curb climate change. The Green Party has more momentum than ever, and its leader, Elizabeth May, is seen as simple, honest and capable. These traits, along with her accent in French, are eerily reminiscent of Jack Layton, a beloved figure in Quebec. A good showing in Quebec, though unlikely, would go a long way to help the Green Party reach official party status.

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Written by Kristan Hines | Sarah McLean | Bridget Burgess | Stephanie Bell

Regional battleground: Atlantic Canada
July 18, 2019